A few weeks ago, ModernLove posted a very enthusiastic review for The Great American Whatever, and I added it to my TBR. And shockingly, my library didn’t have it. So I whined a little bit and got them to order it, I just knew I needed to read it. And now here we are.
Quinn is about to turn 17. He’s a talented writer who dreams of becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, just like his next-door neighbor, who years ago introduced him to the world of classic film. He’s had a rough go of it lately. His father abandoned the family (the timeline on this is questionable. Recently? Years ago?), sending his mother into a fit of binge eating and depression. He hasn’t been to school for the past 6 months. He knows he is gay, but hasn’t officially come out to his mother or his best friend, Geoff. And his sister Annabeth — his best friend in the world and his collaborator on his film projects — died in a car accident at school the day before Christmas break.
And since the minute Quinn heard the news, he and his mother have shut themselves off from the world. He has unplugged his phone and quit social media. His mother hasn’t touched anything in the house because she doesn’t want to lose her memories of Annabeth as she was. Quinn has stopped writing, feeling that without Annabeth, he can never write again.And neither of them have left the house in 6 months. They are basically living in squalor and surviving due to the kindness of neighbors and from his mother’s meager disability checks.
Until one day, Quinn’s friend Geoff decides that enough is enough, and drags Quinn out of the house. And the next few days (and I know this sounds SO CLICHE) teach Quinn how to live again. Geoff takes Quinn to a party, to ease back into the social world. Quinn meets a cute college boy named Amir there, and the two of them hit it off.
And so Quinn navigates his way back into the world that was. And he learns that his sister’s life wasn’t exactly how he thought it was, and that by learning about who she really was and what she wanted in life that maybe he can figure out his own future.
Federle really created a moving character in Quinn. When Quinn hid himself in a bathroom to cry while on a date with Amir, I almost lost it. I wanted to reach into the book and give him a hug when he talked about how he hated his body, and got nervous in Amir’s bedroom and talked instead of fooling around. And (SPOILER) when Quinn decided not to have sex with Amir, I literally cheered.
And yet, while at times I was close to tears, this isn’t a sad book. This is an uplifting book. There were really funny bits of dialogue and some simply ridiculous scenes — yes, I’m talking about you, Dwight the fart.
Quinn and I are nothing alike — I’m not a teen, nor a boy. I’m not gay, and I’ve never been poor. My parents had a strong marriage, and I had very little tragedy in my life until after high school. And I’m definitely not from Pittsburgh. But still. I felt a bond with him that was strangely tight. Quinn could really represent anyone who feels unsure about themselves, and his actions and words were so on point with things I have actually done and said in my life, it was scary. Also, I really love classic films.
Odd that once again, I’ve read two books back to back (last book was the lovely We Are the Ants) that have a similar vibe. Smart, charming, quirky, gay high school boy has lots of problems at home and lots of issues on the relationship front. The strength of their friendships help both of these kids to climb back out of the rock-bottom pits that they’ve found themselves in. And both books are so smartly cool about the issues of sex and gender identity. And both were pretty funny while they weren’t being devastatingly sad.
Thanks to ModernLove for the recommendation.