Life beyond the script and bedroom door
by One-Minute Book Reviews: Laura Stevenson
Jul 21, 2016 | 3188 views | 0 0 comments | 121 121 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tim Federle
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“The Great American Whatever” by Tim Federle

2016 - Simon and Schuster

Quinn Roberts has been a hermit for the entire six months that have passed since his sister Annabeth, who directed and filmed all the movies he has written in high school, died in a car accident. It’s a matter of guilt as well as grief – her car crashed because she was texting him and ran a red light. His mother, who hasn’t opened any mail or paid any bills since the accident, lives downstairs, eating herself into oblivion; Quinn lives upstairs, unwashed, “protected” by earplugs, writing nothing, and living on pizza until he runs out of money and switches to Hot Pockets and Theraflu. Enter Quinn’s best friend Geoff (the star of his movies), who insists he come out – in both senses of the words, but in this book, being gay is merely a side issue. The real problem is Quinn’s struggle to learn that there is life not just beyond his bedroom door, but beyond writing the movie scripts that have been his vocation/obsession until Annabeth’s death.

What follows, if it were a movie, would be a hero’s journey (a plot line once kindly outlined for 10-year-old Quinn by Ricky, then a 22-year-old aspiring screen writer whose parents live across the street). There’s a series of episodes: a party at which Quinn meets Amir, a college guy who is really hot and really interested in him; a visit to Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Amusement Park, where Quinn and Amir’s romance starts to bloom; a party on a boat Amir hires for his going-away party; and Quinn’s re-meeting with Ricky, now a successful and not terribly original screen writer. But the internal journey culminates with Quinn’s 17th birthday present from Geoff, and Quinn’s realization that his absorption in script writing kept him from understanding his beloved sister and best friend.

The charm of this book lies not just in its plot and wide knowledge of movies, but in Quinn’s wonderful voice. He’s bright, he’s witty, he’s a smart aleck – and he has been hiding in his scripts for years. His realization that this is so, which Federle portrays with admirably skilled nuance, is genuinely moving. But the book itself contains no moral and no mush; it combines wonderful humor with genuine sadness. It’s a terrific read, and its “set” in Pittsburgh is deftly used to add to the contrast between dreams and reality – or the difference between the urge to write “The Great American Whatever” and self-knowledge.

Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.

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