The Great American Whatever

Federle, Tim. The Great American Whatever. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Book cover, with title in theater board display style.

Sixteen-year-old Quinn lives screenwriting. Every conversation is dialog; every movement is stage direction. He has been writing movies for years and his ambition is to win a screenplay contest to jumpstart his professional career. His sister directs the films he writes and together, they are an amazing team…Until she dies in a car accident and Quinn no longer knows what to do with his life or even how to take showers and leave the house.

This novel begins with Quinn in deep depression, unable to do basic self care. His mother is also struggling with grief and spends most of her time napping on the couch. One day, his friend Geoff finally forces Quinn to take a shower and leave the house, ostensibly to pick up an air conditioner, but really to get him to socialize at a party. There, Quinn meets a gorgeous older guy that he falls for.

The Great American Whatever is a tender coming out story and a realistic depiction of grief. Federle’s writing is compelling, with excellent character development. However, there were spots that I had trouble engaging with. Quinn’s mother is fat, and this fact is brought up somewhat obsessively. In his inner dialog, Quinn is constantly mentioning the kinds of foods she eats, how often and how much she eats, and the sounds she makes while eating, as well as the size, shape, and feel of various body parts. To be fair, he also often says that she is beautiful, but rather than feeling body positive and fat accepting, it seems kind of forced to me. Therefore, I can’t recommend this book to anyone struggling with disordered eating or body shame.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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