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The Spectacular Now Hardcover – October 20, 2008
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Here's a rule for all book reviewers: DO NOT GIVE AWAY THE ENDING TO THE NOVEL. That's something readers may want to discover for themselves!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and, like others, found myself simultaneously entranced and infuriated by Sutter Keely. Sutter is, for all of his faults,a likable person, but the world is moving past him while he's standing still: his best friend Ricky is moving past all of their partying and wild times and into a serious romantic relationship; the other students at school are looking past the "now" and into the future of college and work; even Sutter's own family is moving on in their own ways, while Sutter deludes himself that the Spectacular Now is enough for him.
"Voice" in YA novels is everything, and this novel certainly has that: Sutter Keely is a very familiar character (we all remember "that guy" from high school) and yet is uniquely his own person.
Highly recommended for both teens and adults: this novel is by turns warm, witty, wise, and heartbreaking.
Oh, and one more time: REMOVE THE SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW OR ELSE WARN THAT IT SPOILS THE ENDING.
Aimee Finicky finds Sutter passed out on a strangers' lawn. Of course she knows who he is, they've been going to the same school for years now and she can remember every class they shared and every hilarious thing he did - he's cool and popular, so it's no wonder he doesn't recognise quiet, shy Aimee.
After sharing a paper-route one morning, Sutter decides to `save' Aimee. She has no self-esteem, a gambling mother and Walrus-like stepfather. She wears a purple puffer jacket that makes her look like a Christmas ornament, and her best friend is a miniature tyrant. Sutter decides to take her under his wing, and not a moment too soon.
But it might not be Aimee who's in desperate need of help. After all, Sutter has never quite recovered from his parent's divorce and lies to himself about his idyllic absentee father. His sister has been angry with him ever since he set her husband's suit on fire. And his best friend, Ricky, has gained a girlfriend and some perspective on Sutter's wild partying ways. Then, of course, there's Cassidy - who Sutter stills pines for, and intends to win back.
Sutter Keely may be the life of every party, but at some point the lights always come on and the music eventually fades.
`The Spectacular Now' is the 2008 young adult novel by Tim Tharp, which was a National Book Award Finalist.
I've been recommended this book for a solid five years now. I bought it and added to the TBR pile, and would occasionally re-read the blurb or scan the first page - but I was never moved to read. And then I heard from Persnickety Snark that a film adaptation was screening to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival. This intrigued me. And when I found out Shailene Woodley (`The Descendants') was in the lead as Aimee, I decided to get on board this bandwagon. And I'm sooooooo glad I did, because `The Spectacular Now' is flippin' superb, and if it's half as good a movie as it is a book, then it will live up to the spectacular.
There's a certain plot trope called `Beautiful All Along' - which is as it sounds, that a nerdy-type girl is plucked out of social obscurity by the popular jock who then makes her over, only to discover she was Beautiful All Along. Weeeeeeell . . . Tim Tharp takes that trope, puts it into a blender and hits `obliterate', and what pours out is a disarmingly complex and refreshing young adult novel that's part comedy with a heavy dose of stalled morality.
Our `jock' in this case is no jock, but rather popular party boy Sutter Keely who doesn't think he's an alcoholic, even though he frequently drinks first thing in the morning and by himself. He's a good, harmless guy but he's vapid and seriously lacking in self-awareness. Aimee is no nerd, but rather a downtrodden wallflower with the world on her shoulders. And rather than the Beautiful All Along story being told from Aimee's perspective, we get it from Sutter's. This is not a romance - and that will frustrate some people. Sutter is not a knight in shining armour - he's a ticking time bomb who doesn't know he is his own detonator and Aimee is his doomed damsel.
Tharp has such a great rhythm in this book. Sutter is a genuinely funny guy, he's charismatic and oozing a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him utterly endearing. But slowly Tharp starts chipping away at Sutter's armour to reveal the crippling lies he tells himself - and readers start to see what a few of his classmates have already realized; that Sutter believes those lies.
While I was reading this I was thinking that it would be a hard book to adapt, only because the writing is so lush and Sutter's interior voice so vital to the book. Tharp writes something delicious. It's little things in the description ("Her voice is so soft. If it were a food item, it'd be a marshmallow."), but also Sutter's worldview monologues are also kinda brilliant, and I'd hate to lose them in the screenplay. So I was really happy to see one movie review in particular that says there are long stretches of banter and blocks of back-and-forth dialogue between characters.
Now, as to the Sutter and Aimee `romance' - some people will hate it. They'll just downright hate it. But I revelled in its originality and honesty; I was so glad that Tharp took the road less travelled in teen romances, and the book is the better for it.
Look, this book will kick your ass a little bit. There's this weird thing that happens where, as a reader, you become sort of like Sutter's girlfriends; all those who fell for his rambunctious charm and carefree loving-life in the beginning, but slowly figured out his failings and shortcomings, becoming frustrated with his wasted potential. The ending is brutal perfection, and if Tharp had concluded any other way, then the entire book would have been a sell-out. As it is, `The Spectacular Now' is one of the cleverest, truest YA books I've ever read.
"Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to wherever time washes things away to." -- Sutter Keely
THE SPECTACULAR NOW is such an achingly humor-filled, intensely sad story, that it has taken me a couple of days of processing the emotions it stirred up before being able to talk about Sutter Keely. Having previously included KNIGHTS OF THE HILL COUNTRY (Tharp's previous book for teens) on my Best of 2006 list, I was well aware of the author's abilities, but this second book is Something Else. It is one that absolutely should be added to high school collections and to required reading lists for YA Lit students.
High school senior Sutter Keely is great friends with a long line of ex-girlfriends. He has a superb sense of humor, plays well with his peers, is forever the life of the party, and professes his affinity for embracing the weird. But as his latest relationship crumbles, he asks himself, "Why is it that girls like me so much but never love me." And, of course, as we come to learn, it is the damaged young alcoholic himself, and not the girls, who has the real problem. Or a number of real problems.
But then he has a chance pre-dawn meeting with a girl he's never noticed who is so unlike his partying crowd:
"She jerks back, startled to see me move. 'You're alive,' she says. 'I thought maybe you were dead.'
"I'm like, 'I don't think I'm dead.' But right now I can't exactly be sure of anything. 'Where the hell am I?'
"'You're in the middle of the yard,' she says. 'Do you know someone who lives here?'
"I sit up and look at the house -- an ugly, little, pink brick one with a window air-conditioner unit. 'No, I never saw it before.'
"'Were you in a wreck or something?'
"'Not that I know of, Why? Where's my car?'
"'Is it one of those?' She points toward the street where two cars are parked along the curb on our side and a junky white pickup is parked on the other side. The pickup's engine is idling so I guess it must be hers.
"'No, I drive a Mitsubishi,' I say. 'Jesus, I must have gone to sleep.' I look around, trying to gather my wits a little. A scraggly elm tree hangs over us and you can just see the moon through the branches. There's a rickety lawn chair stationed in the middle of the yard, and two beer cans lie in the grass a couple of feet away. I vaguely remember sitting in that lawn chair at some point, but I don't remember how I got there.
"'So,' she asks. 'You don't know where you left your car?'
"'Let me think for a second," I say, but my head's not really up for thinking. 'No, it's no good. I don't remember where it is. Maybe I parked it at home and just went out for a walk.
"She shakes her head. 'No, I don't think you live in this neighborhood, Sutter.'
"That surprises the hell out of me right there. 'How did you know my name? Were we talking a while ago or something?'
"'We go to the same high school,' she says, but she doesn't say it like I'm an idiot. She has a kind voice, kind eyes. She looks at me like I'm a bird she found with a broken wing."
Fellow senior Aimee Finecky has struggled to create order amidst the chaos that permeates her home life. She sees the path out of town and she has attained the grades necessary to head there. She has created a sanctuary of a bedroom. And then, as she completes her mother's nocturnal paper route alone -- while mom is off to the Indian casino -- she finds her schoolmate Sutter passed out in that front yard. So begins the story of Sutter and Aimee.
"'Oh yeah.' I take a long pull on the martini. 'Childhood was a fantastic country to live in.'"
There is so much more to this tale. For instance, Sutter's observations on the superficiality of the interaction taking place at his married sister's party -- in contrast to what he's experienced in hanging with his friends -- are hysterically funny and incredibly thought provoking. And Sutter's friend Ricky's meditations upon the longing desire for the miraculous, the role of drugs and alcohol in trying to resurrect the miraculous, and the built-in obsolescence that causes such remedies to ultimately fail when they are relied upon for filling the emptiness, are the kind of jaw-dropping amazing introspections that are so rarely developed to such an exquisite degree in young adult literature.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW impacted me so emotionally that I couldn't even think about reading something else for a few days.
"This stage in the life of the buzz is truly fabulous. It's not even a buzz anymore. It's a roar. The world opens up and everything's yours right here, right now. You've probably heard the expression -- All good things must come to an end. Well, this stage in the life of the buzz never heard anything close to that. This stage says, 'I will never end, I am indestructible. I will last fabulously forever.' And, of course, you believe it. To hell with tomorrow. To hell with all problems and barriers. Nothing matters but the Spectacular Now."
Most recent customer reviews
Sutter is likable only as long as the reader believes he will realize the best version of himself, and instead, he just gets...Read more