Title – Author: The Spectacular Now – Tim Tharp
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 20, 2008
Format – Source: Hardcover – Library
Sutter Keely is the life of the party. He can have fun anywhere with anyone, as long as there’s plenty of booze. He doesn’t plan for the future, like with college; he lives in the now. Then he wakes up on some random lawn to Aimee staring down at him. Aimee is a social disaster: she doesn’t party and only has one friend. She doesn’t know how to stand up for herself, especially at home. Sutter takes it upon himself to change her life and get her to finally go after her dreams. At first it starts off as a project, but he finds that the more time he spends with Aimee, the more he likes her. He might be getting in too deep. Sutter could make her life better…or ruin it.
So I did something I shouldn’t have: I watched the movie trailer before reading the book. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a book. I thought it was just an indie movie. The trailer looked really good (plus I want to see two of the Divergent actors in action), so I wanted to read the book and then it got chosen for book club, so it seemed perfect. But I think my viewing the trailer completely skewed my expectations. I thought it would be a love story, with emotion and depth. What I got was something seriously depressing and not at all what I was expecting, which I think made me not like it as much as I could have.
The writing is really good. Sutter has a very distinct narrative voice, and I was drawn in immediately. Even though I found the book to be well-written, I couldn’t bring myself to like it. First, there’s Sutter. He spends the entire novel buzzed or drunk and because of this, every interaction and feeling felt less real to me. I know, that doesn’t make sense, but it’s just the way I felt. I was uncomfortable the whole time reading about a teenage alcoholic, even though I know there are teens out there suffering through this without help just like Sutter.
There’s this really great dichotomy between how Sutter views himself versus how the world sees him. In this way, I was glad it was told in first-person POV, because it made this divide even clearer. Sutter sees himself as the ultimate party-goer, a feel-good guy who gets along with everyone and who always makes things fun. At first, it’s easy for the reader to believe this, but then cracks start to show. It becomes clear that his peers see him as a joke, and ultimately, someone who takes things too far. He’s not as funny or as fun as he thinks he is.
When Aimee arrives on the scene, I thought it would pick up for me, but instead it made me even sadder. I wanted to like Aimee, I really did. I could relate to her in some ways: using fantasy/sci-fi novels to escape, dreaming big, gliding through school under the radar. But then I saw her changing and not in a good way. Sutter thinks he’s helping, but he’s really not. Yes, she gets more outspoken, but she also becomes mean too. She starts drinking at his level. Rather than becoming her own person, I felt like she was just becoming a copy of Sutter.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH AHEAD. BEWARE: I’M TALKING ABOUT THE ENDING.
The ending is what really ruined the book for me. It’s honestly the most realistic way to end it, but the fact is, it’s utterly depressing. Sutter thinks he’s done an unselfish thing by letting Aimee go live her life. She has a job and will be going to college in a city with her sister. He acknowledges that he’s not the best influence for this girl. But my thing is: was it really unselfish to let her leave thinking that he was going to follow? She’s planning a whole life for them and he’ll just never deliver on his promises. He may have temporarily given her self-confidence and bravery to get away from her deadbeat family, but what happens when she finds out he’s not joining her? I have a feeling she’ll revert to her old self quickly. In other words, their entire relationship was pointless. And it bugs me that the only way Aimee could plan a future was if it was with a guy. The only reason she decided to leave town was because she thought Sutter was going with her. She only wanted to leave town if Sutter was going with her. Then there’s Sutter’s ending, where he basically hasn’t learned anything the entire book and you know his life will never be good. He’s still an alcoholic, he still hasn’t graduated high school, and he still doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t even realize he needs help or he needs to change. He lives in his spectacular now, which isn’t so spectacular at all. The whole thing was thoroughly depressing.
The Spectacular Now is a well-written book, with realistic characters and a realistic ending. The problem was it just wasn’t a book for me. It was way too depressing and not what I was expecting at all (which was my own fault). If you’re looking for a happy ending, or a good love story, this is not the book for you. In this case, my rating doesn’t reflect the quality of the novel but just my very subjective reaction to it.