The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

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The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: YA contemporary realistic fiction at its best, with big questions and great characters. Spectacular indeed.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Scholastic
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1407146454

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Sutter Keely, The Sutterman, has life pretty good. Sure, he's got no long-term plan and may spend his life folding shirts, but he's having a ton of fun, he's hugely popular - even his ex-girlfriends still like him - and his relationship with the wonderful Cassidy will get back on track soon enough. Then he meets the sci-fi obsessed, shy, put-upon Aimee, and decides he can make a difference in her life. The plan is to help her gain some confidence, become popular, and find a nice guy - but Sutter doesn't bargain on things going further than he was planning on. Will he change Aimee's life for the better, or for the worse?

Saying that The Spectacular Now is spectacularly good seems to be something of a lazy, obvious comment based solely on the title. However, it has the merit of being completely and absolutely true, so I'm using it anyway. This is a stunning novel which raises some brilliant questions. Is it enough to live in the moment or should you plan for the future? How much influence is it healthy for someone to have over another person? And, the most baffling of all, why on earth has it taken 8 years to get this gem of a book published in the UK? I know that there's an upcoming film so can understand why it's being released now, but I was stunned to see that this is actually the first time it's hit shelves in this country despite being brought out in the USA in 2006.

Sutter isn't an immediately likeable character - proudly proclaiming himself to be God's own drunk and doing drugs with his friend, he started off by irritating me, if I'm honest. But as the novel progresses and we see what led to him becoming this way, he becomes a really sympathetic narrator, while his relationship with Aimee is beautifully done. Even more impressive is the way we see his issues with drink and drugs. I've read plenty of books about teens with substance abuse problems but this feels like the most realistic portrayal I can remember. There are plenty of times when drinking and drug-taking helps Sutter become the life of the party, popular and living up (or down) to his friends' expectations, but it overall avoids glamourising his lifestyle - it's clear to see there's a cost to his actions. I also thought that the way the people around Sutter reacted to him - Aimee, his friend Ricky, his family, and co-worker Bob - was very believable.

As for the ending, good grief! It left me absolutely reeling but was perfectly written.

Overall, very highly recommended as a superb example of YA contemporary fiction at its best.

A couple of recent favourites of mine in the genre have been Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider and You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett.

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