The Great American Whatever
Simon & Shuster, 2016 276 pgs.
Sixteen-year-old aspiring filmmaker, Quinn Roberts, has not left his home in six months, nor has his mother. As the book progresses we find out why: his sister tragically died in a car accident the previous December and they are still not coping with the loss. Enter Quinn's best friend Geoff, who forces him out of the house and back into life. The first step is a new air conditioner. The second step is a college party, thrown by Geoff's sister, where Quinn meets a cute guy. Quinn knows that he is gay, yet has not officially come-out to his family and friends. As the flirtation with Amir (Quinn's new crush) turns to something more, Quinn finally faces some hard truths about his life and his family and slowly reveals to those around him his true sexual orientation. Unable to make films since his sisters, who was also his creative partner, died, Quinn sees his life in script form, yet has no desire to continue with his life goal of film making. It takes the return of a childhood hero, the disillusion of first love, and the truth behind who his sister really was, as well as alleviating himself of the responsibility of her death for Quinn to finally find the courage to move on and return to following his true passion.
This is my new favorite book: once I started reading it I found it impossible to put down. Federle puts his own spin on the very popular "dead-girl fiction" genre in a serious, yet funny (or seriously funny) offering. Known for his "Nate" series, Federle now turns to an older audience, moving from a Broadway-bound wanna-be to an inspiring screen writer. What both books have in common is a lovable protagonist who does not fit in a heterosexual manly-man box and brilliant comic timing. How can a book about a teenager struggling with the death of his closest family member, in addition to the loss of his father, living with an agoraphobic and mentally struggling mother, reluctance to reveal his sexual preference, and six months of school absence and total reluctance to move forward with life be funny? It just is. Quinn is an awesome character, smart and witty with such a sparkly personality that the reader wants to befriend him. Yet, Quinn is also self-absorbed and makes frustratingly poor decisions, which humanizes him to the reader. Yes, Quinn falls in love for the first time during this summer of healing, but the book is more than a love story. It is about all of live's relationships, growing up, and coming to terms with those we love; warts and all. The romance ends far from "happily ever after", which I appreciate, yet leaves Quinn wiser and more confident in the process. He learns to see life through the eyes of people other than himself and to let go of the guilt he harbors over his sister's death. Quinn is on the road to healing with a future ahead of him and, although he has a ways to go, the reader is hopeful that he will get there.