The Great American Whatever

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Great American Whatever Book Poster Image
Wry, heartfelt tale of teen trying to move on after tragedy.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Some guidance on storytelling, including the idea of the hero's journey narrative, the importance of constructive criticism, coping with perfectionism, and the particular challenges of adapting a written story for a visual medium. References to classic films and well-known directors.

Positive Messages

Life is unpredictable and often painful, but hiding from it doesn't make it any easier to navigate. Though you can't control your fate, you'll fare better if you try to take charge of your life instead of passively drifting along. Relationships and emotional connection are vitally important. Everyone is starring in her own drama, and you need to take care not to let your own story blind you to what your loved ones are going through.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Quinn is deeply appreciative of those who have supported and influenced him and his family, both before and after his sister's death. He's fiercely devoted to his mother, who -- though nearly incapacitated by grief -- is similarly loving and concerned for her son. Geoff is loyal and bighearted, giving Quinn plenty of room to grieve but never giving up on him.

Violence
Sex

Main character is both eager and wary about losing his virginity. It's mentioned that he learns about gay sex from watching porn. References to "boners," being hard, and "getting laid." Diary entry briefly describes first time character had intercourse. Character pursues sexual encounter without any relationship commitment.

Language

Some casual swearing and vulgarity: "balls," "pissy," "s--t," "dammit," "f—k," "ass," "pissed," "balls."

Consumerism

Frequent references to brands, particularly snack foods.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens and young adults smoke and drink at parties. An underage character drinks for the first time, gets sick, and suffers a hangover.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Great American Whatever is a coming-of-age story about a gay teen struggling with grief and guilt after his sister's death. Author Tim Federle previously has written gay-friendly books for tweens (Better Nate Than Ever), but this book is for an older audience: It has mature themes and sexual content and language (references to "boners" and "getting laid"; some casual swearing, including "s--t" and "f—k"). Quinn, who's trying to avoid wrestling with his feelings and adjusting to a future without his sister, seeks out new, distracting experiences -- such as drinking beer and considering smoking pot and engaging in serious flirting with an older, experienced man. He's embarrassed by his virginity and wants to have a sexual relationship.

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What's the story?

Quinn Roberts is 16 going on 17, and he's trying not to think about anything at all. Since the death of his older sister -- who also happened to be his best friend and filmmaking partner -- he's stopped going to school, writing his screenplays, showering, or even leaving the home he shares with his mother, who's similarly frozen with grief. When his best friend, Geoff, drags him out to a college party, he meets Amir, an older (and very cute) college student whose flirtatious interest coaxes Quinn out of hiding. Quinn knows how he'd like this story to play out, but he finds that reality tends to stray from his script.

Is it any good?

Author Tim Federle has a gift for blending witty humor with pathos to create charming antiheroes, and he brings it all to this touching story about coming out to live life fully and unapologetically. Tragedy pulses through THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER, but it's kept in check by Quinn's irrepressible spirit. He's an observant and self-deprecating narrator, able to laugh at his own insecurities. As his idealized heroes are revealed as flawed -- and more human -- Quinn's faith in himself grows ever stronger.

Some readers may find the sexual content awkward or too edgy, but for most teens Quinn's anxiety over sex and relationships will strike a very familiar chord. It's a classic coming-of-age tale with a very modern sensibility: Quinn is nervous about coming out, but the big reveal proves to be no big deal. His relationship with Amir isn't a love affair for the ages, but it's no less consequential for a boy figuring out how to be his own man.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Quinn's concern over his lack of sexual experience. Do you think teens are honest about their sexual activities? Why do you think some teens try to compare their own experiences with those of others? What's the effect of sexual content in children's media?

  • What do you think about Quinn's behavior when he emerges from his house (he wants to try drinking and having sex)? Do you think it's healthy or worrisome?

  • Quinn views coming out as a hassle, and his own experience proves somewhat anticlimactic. Do you think the experience of coming out is getting easier for young people?

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