Cover of The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle. The title and author's name spelled out on a shabby movie marquee

About the Book

Title: The Great American Whatever
Published: 2016

Cover Story: Sign of the Times
Drinking Buddy: I Got a Thing…
Testosterone Level: Flat
Talky Talk: A Good Idea, Poorly Executed
Bonus Factors: Independent Film
Bromance Status: Put Me in the Credits

Cover Story: Sign of the Times

Not a bad cover. My version has little stickers for the letters. I can get behind this.

The Deal:

Sixteen-year-old Quinn used to have a good life. He had friends, a great sister, and was kind of coming to terms with the fact that he might not be…straight. Even though his Dad abandoned the family, Quinn still has his best friend Geoff (such a straight boy, ugh). Best of all, he loves making movies with his sister, Annabeth.

Until one day, Annabeth sends a text while driving. And suddenly, Quinn is an only child.

Oh, and she had been answering an angry text from Quinn.

Quinn and his mother stop leaving the house, with his mom eating her feelings and Quinn dropping out of school and devolving into a caveman, never leaving his room. It’s not until Geoff shows up and drags him back into the real world, does Quinn see the possibility of life going on. That even without his sister, there are still parties to attend, films to be made, and boys to meet.

Drinking Buddy: I Got a Thing…

Two pints of beer cheersing

Quinn just suffered one of the greatest tragedies one can experience. I’m willing to cut him a lot of slack. But the dude just doesn’t have a lot of personality. Most of the action takes place due to the efforts of Geoff and others. Quinn just kind of lets stuff happen.

And one more thing: I say. You say. He/she says. We say. They say.

NOT: I go. He goes. She goes.

I realizes that in spoken word, ‘go’ is often synonymous with ‘say.’ But in books, I kept thinking the character was leaving the room. Not a deal breaker, but every time I read something like “Let’s get out of here,” goes Geoff, I had to grit my teeth.

I’m afraid Quinn would be the sort of person who’d make me grab my phone and go say ‘Whoops, big emergency, gotta run.’

Testosterone Level: Flat

So Geoff drags Quinn to a college party, where he meets Amir, an older, openly-gay, Lebanese-American hunk. Who slips Quinn his phone number. And would like to teach him a thing or two about life.

Except it kind of falls flat. Every time Amir makes a move, Quinn ends the date. The two connect on a superficial level, but they have less chemistry than your typical college man and his teenage boyfriend. They just don’t communicate.

Amir: Aren’t fat people disgusting?

Quinn: I have to say go to the bathroom.

Geoff: Dude, his mom has a real weight problem!


Amir: You’re lucky to be an only child! Let me say some things about siblings that would be pretty hurtful to someone who just suffered a tragic loss.

Quinn: Take me home.

Even when things start to get hot and heavy, it felt like the two were just going through the motions.

Talky Talk: A Good Idea, Poorly Executed

I love the idea of the guilt-ridden, broken-hearted, sexually-confused, overly-hyphenated young man trying to start living again after an unbearable loss. All the elements were there: the too-good-to-be-true dead sister, the quirky hobby, the zany bestie, the older love interest, the depressed mother, and the unexpected plot twists.

But things just never really got off the ground. Stuff happens to Quinn, but through the efforts of others. And reading about a guy rehashing all that is tragic in his world is about as much fun as listening to that in real life. I kept waiting for Quinn to turn the corner and take the reins of his own destiny, but eventually got the feeling that Geoff would still be his life coach when they were retired.

My wife, Sandra, said it best: It was a good idea. But the book didn’t measure up.

Bonus Factor: Independent Film

Close up of the girl's face from The Blair Witch Project

Quinn and Annabeth loved filming their own little projects. They kind of had the notion being the next big pair of sibling directors. Who knows what films they might have created one day. And now Annabeth is gone. Quinn can’t even look at a camera. He refuses even to turn on his old phone and see what her last text message was. But Geoff and his sister Carly think it’s time that Quinn sit in the director’s chair again. Plus, there’s the old neighbor kid who’s gone on to be a big Hollywood screenwriter. He’s back in town, maybe he can give Quinn some pointers.

Can Quinn get out of his funk long enough to create the next great arthouse film? Or is he doomed to be another Allen Smithee?

Bromance Status: Put Me in the Credits

I’m glad this book was written, and I’m happy that it’s brought people joy. Not really my things, but hey, if you win an award, don’t forget about my intangible contributions.

Full disclosure: I got a free copy of this book from Simon and Schuster, but I forgot that I requested this, so I checked it out from the library instead. No money exchanged hands.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.