A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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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."
Talk to your kids 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?
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