Monday, November 16, 2015

Better Nate Than Ever

Better Nate Than Ever
Tim Federle
Simon and Schuster, 2013  275 pgs.
Grades 5-7
Realistic Fiction

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster schemes with his best friend Libby to escape for a day from small town PA to the bright lights of New York City to audition for Elliot in "E.T.: The Musical". Libby coaches Nate and agrees to cover for him while his parents are out of town and leave his sports hero older brother in charge. The big city is even more dazzling than Nate had hoped. He makes his way from the bus station to the audition, only getting mildly and naively distracted along the way. Once he reaches the audition space, he realizes that he is the only actor without a parent present. Nate fakes his age and gathers all the bravado and courage he can muster. At zero hour, when he is on the way to being dismissed because of lack of a parent's permission, in walks a long-lost aunt to save the day. Aunt Heidi was also bitten by the acting bug and escaped Pennsylvania to find fame and fortune as an actress, only to end up hostessing at a kitschy New York restaurant. Aunt Heidi knows the audition process, however, and has Nate up and running in no time. After being dismissed Nate is naturally very disappointed and Aunt Heidi puts him on a bus back to Pennsylvania. Imagine his surprise when he receives a phone call on the way out of the audition. It is a CALL BACK! Nate jumps off the bus and back to the studio for round two. After a hilarious series of events, the audition is over, it is turning dark and cold, and now Nate has no where to sleep, no money in his pocket, and no coat to keep him warm. What is an tenacious thespian to do? Read the book to find out!

Professional Broadway actor, Federle, is no stranger to the audition process and the highs and lows of the acting business. .Broadway bound kids will hang on to every word of this book (I know I did!), if only to get the inside scoop of what the New York acting scene is really like. Besides offering a much needed glimpse into professional acting for young people, Federle leads his readers on a hilarious adventure. Nate's journey has many twists, turns, and nail biting moments. All seems lost, and then an all important call comes through. This scenario happens more than once. Nate bumbles around the city reaching where he needs to be almost by accident. His adventures make me a nervous wreck, but kids will enjoy experiencing New York in all its glory through Nate's eyes. The book is laugh-out-loud funny and had me literally guffawing. Federle could be a comedian if he chooses to hang up his dancing shoes and/or leave writing, which would be a shame. Nate's character is larger than life, but realistic for a young man this committed to following his dreams. He is lovable, consistently cheerful, and unexpected. He is also a survivor of bullying and although he doesn't dwell on it, you can see that it hurts. Nate is tortured at school, camp, and by his brother for being gay. Although as an adult reader, I think he certainly is heading in that direction, Nate says that he is not ready to think about romance of any kind yet. I think that it is important for kids who are confused about whether they feel like kissing boys or girls to know that they are not alone. It is also important for kids who know exactly who they are to experience what it feels like not to be sure and to be ridiculed for it. Underneath all the dashing about the city, the arduous auditions, and the jokes, we see Nate's family problems including his parents struggling marriage and his mother's secrets. This is a deceptively deep book wrapped in a funny and glitzy package. The book ends with Nate receiving the call from the casting director with news about whether or not he got the part, but the reader never knows the outcome. Luckily, Federle has released Five, Six, Seven, Nate! with the next installment of Nate's adventures.

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