The Spectacular Now



Teen drunk's tragic story best for mature readers.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Spectacular Now is a very sophisticated story, but could lead to some interesting discussions about what behaviors we celebrate in high school culture, what makes someone an alcoholic, and even how we are supposed to feel about Sutter, a likable but misguided character who spends most of his life drunk.

Positive messages

Careful readers will be able to deduce that this is a tragic story: Sutter is on the road to nowhere, while his friends are leaving for college and starting their own lives.

Positive role models

Sutter is an unrepentant teen drunk who prides himself on being a "right-now kind of guy." He doesn't make a typical YA transformation and readers may be surprised that he does not reform. He's not to be read as a hero, but as a tragic figure, damaged by his family, who's doomed to lead a depressing drunken life.


A fistfight. A drunk girl slaps another. A drunken car accident results in a broken arm.


Sutter has sex with two different girls, but the incidents are not graphically described. Mentions of erections, masturbation, French kissing, various body parts, pornography, condoms, tampons, balls, and use of different terms for intercourse. A 20-year-old has sex with a 14-year-old.


Plenty of swearing, including "s--t," "d--k," "p---y," and "f--k."


Many brands mentioned approvingly, including electronics, cereal, cookies, snacks, cars, prescription drugs, fast food, clothing and clothing stores, department stores, hard liquor, and soda, the last figuring often in the plot as a carrier for alcohol.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Sutter is a teen alcoholic who's mildly buzzed all day, drives drunk constantly, and has several scenes of being falling-down drunk. Other teens also drink heavily, sometimes inducing vomiting. A man's addicted to inhaling gasoline fumes, which eventually kills him. Several people smoke, both tobacco and marijuana.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Sutter, the main character in The Spectacular Now, is an unrepentant teen drunk who prides himself on being a "right-now kind of guy." He doesn't make a typical YA transformation, and readers may be surprised that he doesn't reform. Sophisticated readers will be able to deduce that he's a tragic figure, damaged by his broken family and doomed to lead a depressing drunken life -- but parents might want to check in to make sure teens understand the point here. There's also marijuana smoking, swearing, brand names, sex, mentions of condoms, and a girl confessing that her first time was a disturbing encounter with the 20-year-old son of her mother's boyfriend, when she was only 14.

What's the story?

High school senior Sutter Keely is never without a drink -- in a go-cup, hip flask, or car-trunk-turned-ice-chest -- and he's always slightly buzzed, sometimes falling-down drunk. Sutter is a happy drunk, the life of the party. He says that he's \"one hundred percent serious about not being serious,\" and can't understand why his classmates seem so interested in planning ahead. When he meets nerdy Aimee, who supports her mother's gambling with her paper route, Sutter decides he's just what Aimee needs. But his friends don't seem to agree.

Is it any good?


THE SPECTACULAR NOW is different from most YA stories about addiction: Sutter doesn't learn the Big Lesson, doesn't see the error of his ways or join AA, and remains an alcoholic. But careful readers will be able to deduce that his story is a tragedy: Everyone he loves is moving on, while he still hasn't graduated from high school, has lost his job -- and even his drinking isn't always purely pleasurable the way it once was.

Not all the plotting is perfect: Some readers may find Sutter's encounter with his father a bit of a letdown. But readers will find it easy to root for Sutter, who has some real kindness locked inside -- as well as some deep pain -- and find it difficult to leave him drunk and alone outside of a sad dive bar, disappearing "little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now." 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how this book differs from typical stories about substance abuse. Did the ending surprise you? Has Sutter changed at all by the end?

  • This book was nominated for a National Book Award. Why do you think this book was singled out? Does it deserve that honor?

  • What other books have you read that deal with substance abuse?

Book details

Author:Tim Tharp
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:October 1, 2008
Number of pages:294
Publisher's recommended age(s):14

This review of The Spectacular Now was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 17 year old Written byBookshop Mom September 7, 2009

Great writing, worth discussing

I think the reviewer missed by a bit here. In the end Sutter sees everyone who is important to him heading off to begin their adult life while he is still stuck in his pattern of drinking and going no where. He tries to quit drinking but can't and he is beginning to realize the hopelessness of his own life. I think Tharp is a terrific writer and there is much to discuss in this sharp, sad novel. Don't sell it short. Bookshop Mom
Adult Written byKeatonxRondelli December 4, 2009

perfect for anyone, unless your parents dont like the scene it is in

I Love this book, its so true to a lot of people that can be catagorized as a Sutter Keeley themselves
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educational value
Teen, 16 years old Written byBookstho August 24, 2014

Provocative, Fun, and Insightful

This is a fun, interesting read for an older teenaged kid. Sutter's world is never dull, or at least he never makes it sound like it is. His point of view is so intriguing- I could listen to him tell a story about how paint dries and still enjoy it. It is edgy, but for an older teenager, it's fine. I recomend it. You will most likely fall in love with Sutter's spunky point of view like I did.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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