Better Nate Than Ever

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Better Nate Than Ever Book Poster Image
Terrific tale of misfit taking bold step to remake his life.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is a crash course in musical theater, with references to both revered hits and legendary bombs, and an eye-opening look at the grueling audition process.

Positive Messages
Nate confirms that he isn't an oddball -- he just needs to find the right place for himself. His mom and his aunt begin the difficult process of reconciliation. The ultimate lesson is that happiness doesn't always come easily: Nate learns you sometimes have to struggle through fear and put it all on the line to find happiness.
Positive Role Models
Libby and Nate are loyal friends -- though they lie and steal to carry out their plan (Nate does feel guilty about it). Nate's heart is true: Unprepared for cold, he swipes a coat from a donation box but later leaves it in another. Buoyed to hear his most persistent bullies got in trouble, he urges Libby to say nothing more about one who was found with a Playgirl magazine. Aunt Heidi becomes a solid supporter for Nate, despite years of distance between them, and by helping Nate puts herself in an uncomfortable situation with her sister. Even her roommate goes to bat for Nate. 
Nate fears for his safety in the big city, suspecting predators lurk everywhere, but is never in harm's way. He recounts some bullying episodes, including being shoved into a locker.

At the outset, Nate says his sexuality is undecided and off-topic. He sees two boys kiss in a dance club, and in a few scenes speaks admiringly of men's looks. Libby sneaks a look into Anthony's underwear drawer and makes him flex, shirtless. There are fleeting references to a father's affair with an exotic dancer, strippers, pole dancing, a woman in a catsuit with leather "boobs," and the Museum of Sex. A "male porno mag" found in a student's locker is mentioned.


Nate and his best friend substitute the names of Broadway flops for curse words. Nate says "a--hole" but it's printed with the dash, as is "s--t." Other vulgar language: "boobs," "jerk," "frickin'," "butt crack," and "ballsy," as well anti-gay slurs by classmates and even strangers, including "faggot," "homo," "fairy," "fagster," "SuperFag."


The story is saturated with pop-culture references. More than three dozen brand names pop up, including references to tech (Facebook, iPhone, Nokia, Google), restaurants and stores (Applebee's, Old Navy), and products (several soda brands, Mitchum deodorant, Vitamin Water). 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Libby finds beer in Anthony's sock drawer, Aunt Heidi recalls finding alcohol in her sister's closet, Nate's mom has a history of alcohol abuse and becomes drunk in one scene, and an adult working at the auditions smokes. There are references to poppyseed muffins influencing drug tests, a cocktail named for Nate's aunt, and Scotch.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Better Nate Than Ever is a charming story of a boy who sneaks away from home and falls in love with New York City. He takes his brother's fake ID and his mom's ATM card and lies to adults. His conscience weighs on him, but he's focused on his goal: to audition for a Broadway musical. While Nate says his sexuality remains "undecided," he's routinely bullied for being gay and shows some interest in boys. His family has had problems with alcoholism and infidelity. The publisher recommends this title for ages 9 and older: We recommend 10 and up due to the mature themes and language. It can be a good choice for younger kids, but risks introducing anti-gay slurs to more sheltered kids.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byamycoko July 21, 2014


If your own review says "At the outset, Nate says his sexuality is undecided and off-topic. He sees two boys kiss in a dance club, and in a few scenes spea... Continue reading
Adult Written byanonreviewer July 7, 2020

A hilarious book. Don't let the Karens fool you.

Alright, I'm writing a review only because none of these are accurate/even trying. Yes, it is a book with LGBT themes (and 2 sequel books include this. Sor... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old February 8, 2015
I thought that this book was really good. As a theater fan myself, I loved hearing about Broadway auditions in this book as well as the sequel; Five, Six, Seven... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old March 3, 2014

Listen, this book is amazing, but inappropriate for younger kids.

This book contains great characters and messages, but the content makes this book iffy. At his school, Nate Foster gets bullied for being assumed to be gay and... Continue reading

What's the story?

Eighth-grader Nate Foster is a boy in love with Broadway but stuck in small-town western Pennsylvania, a misfit in a family that values sports and God. While his parents spend a weekend away to try to save their marriage, Nate's best friend Libby helps him execute a crazy plan: to sneak off to New York City to try out for E.T.: The Musical and return home before his parents notice. New York City is more amazing than he dreamed -- and the auditions more excruciating. Through heartache, joy, fear, and wild hope, Nate takes the biggest chance of his young life and has an adventure that changes his life in ways he didn't expect.

Is it any good?

Tim Federle's first novel, BETTER NATE THAN EVER, is fresh and funny, a joyful story for anyone who's felt like a misfit (which is just about everyone). What sets Nate apart and targets him for ridicule in Jankburg, Pa., makes him stand out -- winningly -- at the auditions.

It's also a celebration of New York City, capturing the thrill of a first encounter with the city in all its craziness -- much like the rush teens feel when they enjoy a taste of real independence. Federle nails the voice of a witty 13-year-old with one foot firmly planted in childhood and the other tentatively toeing toward adulthood. Nate chatters excitedly, sometimes doubling back to fill in gaps even as he shares the latest developments. The energetic storytelling crackles with smart one-liners and quirks fans will embrace. Nate's a lovable hero for misfits and dreamers everywhere, and especially for young gay teens and kids who, like Nate, aren't ready to declare anything about their sexuality. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether the frequent use of brand names helps or distracts from the story. Do they risk dating the story, or do they add to a sense of time and place?

  • The tables are turned when one of Nate's bullies is caught with a magazine that makes him a target for anti-gay bullying, but Nate stands up for his tormenter. For help talking about bullying and how to be an upstander, read our article "Bullying Is Everybody's Business."

  • Why do you think musicals seem to be gaining in popularity? Do you think it's the influence of shows like Glee and movies like High School Musical?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love misfits and musical soundtracks

Themes & Topics

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