Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle is a hilarious tale of a small-town, small-statured boy with big dreams. Nate Foster, who is in 8th grade and vigorously declares himself to be “almost 14”, concocts a plan with help from his best friend Libby to run away from his hometown in western Pennsylvania to New York City for a night so he can audition for the role of Elliott in E.T.: The Broadway Musical Version.
I loved Nate’s humor, enthusiasm, and naivete. When he arrives at the audition, alone and disheveled, he finds it packed with kids who have intense stage moms straight out of Dance Moms. All the other kids, it seems, have special skills, resumes, dance studios, and prepared monologues. Undeterred, Nate delivers the monologue he’s been practicing for what to say to adults on his journey when they notice he’s without a parent. (“Funny you should ask about my mom, sir. I figured you might do that, figured this might be the first thing you bring up when somebody as little as me–as little looking as me–walks up to your Greyhound ticket counter, a counter you’re doing one heck of a job manning, to request a ticket out of here.”)
Unfortunately, Nate’s brother hurt himself at a track meet and the family has noticed Nate’s absence. His Aunt Heidi comes to get him, and he learns for the first time about her attempts to make it as an actress in New York. He also meets her roommate, the first openly gay adult Nate has met. (Nate gets teased for being gay at school but he’s still undecided himself.
Nate’s excitement about things like “a super Applebee’s, the Cadillac of Applebee’s” and people being “allowed to bicycle at night in New York City” (italics are Nate’s) reminds his aunt about why she moved to New York in the first place. This book might be extra-funny if you’re familiar with New York City, but if you’ve never been there it’s still a great way to do a little armchair traveling. Better Nate Than Ever might also be extra-funny to theatre lovers. One of my favorite running bits is that instead of swear words, Nate and Libby say the name of Broadway flops, like, “Oh, Starmites!” Nate usually provides a bit of context for these flops–Starmites (1989; sixty performances; the musical’s setting was a place called Shreikwood Forest, and I’m not kidding. Starmites my life to oblivion.”)
Author Tim Federle does a great job of walking the line between making Nate’s enthusiastic cluenessness hilarious without being at his expense. Nate is a character you’ll root for. I, for one, can’t wait for the sequel, which is supposedly in the works.
Recommended for: All you drama geeks, and anyone who likes a good running-away-from-home adventure story.
Reviewed by: Teen librarian Renata