The Spectacular Now
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008
National Books Awards Nominee
Sutter Keely is the self-proclaimed master of the party. Cruising through life creating one subtle adventure after another, he is approaching the end of his senior year. Just like any world that will eventually have to change, Sutter’s becomes increasingly complicated when he decides to befriend a timid girl named Aimee. Suddenly, Sutter’s riddled past is brought into the present, and he is changed just as much as he seeks to change Aimee. In the end, though, he holds fast to his love for life and stays true to his identity as the master of the party.
It’s difficult to imagine anything but the bland coming out of Middle America, but Tharpe masterfully creates the alluring out of the seemingly mundane. Books like this, where teens are drawn into a world of partying almost to the degree of fantastical living is something that often comes from coming of age stories in New York or the West Coast. However, just as the book title shows, it’s the person, not the place that can create the spectacular now.
Sutter is a deep and engaging character whose motivation never betrays his character or the situations he find himself in. The writing is striking in a way that’s unique to the place and the voice of Sutter, the narrator: “Heroic weeds rise up from the cracks in the sidewalk, and the colored lights of the Hawaiian Breeze ignite the broken glass in the gutter.” Sutter is juxtaposed with other characters who are more typically the savior type, but in the end it is he—the crazy partier, the social thriller who will more than likely amount to little outside of college or high school, as Sutter puts it “God’s own drunk,” the person who becomes the outcast and dreg within normal society—who brings salvation to all of the people around him. He gives people a hope and a future, a modern representation of a Christ-like figure.
Given the nature of a high school teenager who lives in the spectacular now, there is rampant alcohol and drug use throughout the novel as well as somewhat explicit sex scenes. As such, the readers should be a little older. I recommend this book to readers 15+.
For the Classroom
Since the book is set in the present, there isn’t much redeeming value as a classroom companion. However, it could be used in a English/Reading class since it contains a majority of the necessary tropes and literary devices used in literature studies.
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