Sunday, July 27, 2014

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

For Nate Foster, 13, and his best friend Libby, musical theater is everything.  So naturally, when they learn that there is an open casting call for a new Broadway musical, and that auditions are to be held on a weekend, Nathan is elated.  Who better to play Elliot in E.T. the Musical?  The only trouble is the Nate lives in western Jankburg, PA and Broadway is in NYC.

Nate and Libby put their heads together and soon hatch a plan.  Nate will take the Greyhound bus to NYC, go to the audition, snag the role of Elliot, then hop back on the bus to Jankburg so he can be home before anyone notices he's gone.  And conditions could be more ideal. Nate's parents are away for the weekend, trying to spark the dying ember of their almost dead marriage and Nate's been left in the hands of totally disinterested, "girl addicted" brother Anthony, 16, who wants him to spend the night at Libby's.

Armed with old unreliable Nokia cell phone, his mother's ATM card, and Libby's support, Nate gets on the Greyhound bus to NYC.  Easy peasy!  After all, he and Libby have rehearsed everything over and over should something go wrong.

And lots of things do go wrong, but Nate perseveres.  The bus ride could have gone better, but once Nate arrives in Manhattan, he is in love with the city despite the sudden rain storm; the guy who sells him some ill-fitting hip hop clothes so he can be dry for his audition; being told he needs a guardian if he is under 18 in order to audition; and running into Jordan Rylance, who went to the Performing Arts School in Pittsburgh with Libby; and a few more obstacles, setbacks and surprises.

And just when it feels like Nate and Libby's plan is for sure going downhill, along comes the family black sheep, Aunt Heidi, to send Nate back to Jankburg on the bus.  Maybe.

Better Nate Than Ever is narrated by Nate and he is a really wonderful, unique character.  He's a hale and hearty kid who has a dream and he's going to go for it, no matter what.  His voice is realistic, though sometimes he sounds a little older than 13.  But, Nate is shorter than most 13 year olds, has been bullied by kids at school and at home by Anthony, who calls him some not very nice homophobic names (and Nate tells us firmly that his sexuality is still undecided), and even his parents want him to be more like his jock brother and less like who he is.  These kinds of things can force a kid to grow up fast and, though, Nate relates all of this with some very tongue-in-cheek humor, but the reader knows these are serious issues for him, and no doubt, for many of them as well.

Tim Federle, no stranger to Broadway musicals and auditions, has produced a well written, realistic story, though not without a few zany moments and people.  Besides tackling some serious topics in Better Nate Than Ever, he also gives the reader a little behind the scenes look at what goes on in auditions, where everyone is talented and where stage mothers and their children are desperate to become the next big star, or at least get a foot in the stage door.  But books about musical theater can be a hard sell to middle grade boys, and I wonder if there was enough to pull them in.  I hope so.

When I was in college, I moved into an East Village 4th floor walk-up.  I was the only person in the building not in show business and the only native New Yorker, who has always loved going to the theater.  But, during my college years, I watched friends go on audition after audition and I have to admit, I could never do, but I really have to admire them and all actors for their guts and persistence.  My experience made reading about Nate really extra special for me.

GOOD NEWS: If you loved Better Nate Than Ever, you probably already know or have read the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

I really loved how Nate and Libby substituted curse words with failed Broadway shows.  So, Holy Cats ("Cats technically wasn't a flog, but Libby says it was, artistically…" pg 74) and Heavens to Carrie,  Nate really wants to go to the Applebee's he sees by Port Authority Bus Terminal and 42nd Street, a little bit of home, I guess.  But if you come to NYC, skip the Applebee's and head over to Joe Allen's for a signature burger and a look at the walls, which are decorated with posters from failed Broadway plays.  Think of all the new 'curse' words you could learn.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. I also loved this book. I'm a big theater fan and make my NYC visit every few years. Thanks for the recommendations, I'll try out Joe Allen.s next time.

  2. Great, I love their burger, and have even seen a few famous people there. And I am also a big theater fan - there is nothing like a live show.

  3. I'll show this book to my daughter, we're looking for books she'll be interested in (although horses and dogs are now the "thing").


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