Author: Tim Tharp
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date Published: October 20, 2008
Number of Pages: 294 (Hardcover)
Sutter Keely – he’s cool, he’s fun, he’s the life of the party. He’s also irresponsible, unreliable and a bit of an alcoholic. Nothing really matters to Sutter apart from wining back his ex-girlfriend and his next drink. That is until he wakes up one morning on Aimee Finecky’s lawn. Poor Aimee has none of the awesomeness of Sutter and so he takes it upon himself to introduce her to his spectacular world. Only it seems he gets in a little too deep. For the first time in his life Sutter has the chance to make a difference but can he handle it?
The life of Sutter Keely is indeed spectacular. Sutter, the world’s most high functioning teenage alcoholic is a loveable ne’er-do-well who takes us on the journey that is his life. Philosophical, funny and full of heart Sutter is easy to like even if he’s cheesy (constantly referring to himself as “Sutterman” in fact that he actually refers to himself in the third person makes The Persnickety Rapscallion roll her eyes. See what I did there? Clever right?)
There’s also the fact that he is, as previously stated, a high functioning alcoholic. And no one seems particularly perturbed by this fact. While I read I kept asking myself, “Is it really possible that his mother just doesn’t notice that her son is in a perpetual state of drunkenness? Or is she really just a crap mother?” Neither of which questions are ever answered, or even broached. Which I suppose explains Sutter’s disdain for commitment, in his experience people really don’t seem to care so why should he? But he does care. Which is what leads him to do stupid things, like try to “save” Aimee.
Aimee Finecky – now there’s an interesting character. The complete opposite of our man Sutter, she’s quiet, shy, neat and nerdy (at least in Sutter’s estimation, I mean sure there’s nothing remotely sexy about a giant purple coat, mostly because all it brings to mind is images of Grimace but nonetheless – you know, different strokes and all that.) She’s also a doormat, pushed around by her family and her best friend – who possibly comes equipped with one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read, “Krystal Krittenbrink is what you’d call amorphous – a blob.” Amazing. Aimee’s also full of hopes and dreams and yet for all her sweetness and intelligence she gets so wrapped up in Sutter and his way of life (particularly the drinking) that you start to wonder if she’s going to throw away all that hard work in order to keep Sutter around.
Sutter and Aimee’s relationship is at times sweet and at other times painful. Sutter, so desperate to bring Aimee out of her shell and and for her to recognize her self-worth doesn’t realize the negatives his influence is having on her. And Aimee so eager to please and amazed that the super cool Sutter Keely would even be interested in her is unwilling to acknowledge Sutter’s flaws. It killed me every time she apologized to him for his stupidity.
There’s also the fact that throughout most of their friendship/relationship Sutter’s still jonesing to get back with his ex-girlfriend who dumped him, yet he continues to allow things with Aimee to progress towards a relationship. Sutter truly is an ass. (A likeable ass, but an ass nonetheless.)
There are some really great minor characters in this story, specifically Sutter’s best friend Ricky – who embodies the idea of growing up and maturing, and Sutter’s ex Cassidy who recognizes that though he’s chock full of good times, Sutter’s incapable of providing the stability and reliability anyone would want in a relationship.
The contempt Sutter feels towards his mother, the fact that he blames her for his father’s disappearance from his life, that he lies to his friends about where his father works offer brief glimpses into the part of Sutter he hides away. When he finally see’s his father after so many years and realizes that his mother wasn’t lying, that his father was a cheat and a good-for-nothing it’s kind of the smack in the face he’s needed all this time. It was a glimpse into his future if he keeps on the same path. It also makes him realize he’s not what Aimee needs (thank god for that.)
The book is littered with references to God (Sutter’s mantra: “I am God’s own drunk”) which I guess goes along with our main characters messiah complex which ironically also happens to be his fatal flaw. Sutter’s desire to always be kind, to make people feel good is what leads him to leading on Aimee and taking things too far, even in breaking up with her he beats around the bush and skates over the issue to avoid causing her pain not realizing that what he’s doing will ultimately cause her more pain then if he just told her the truth.
He’s a complex guy, Sutter.
Let’s talk about the ending, because when it happened I definitely started mumbling under my breath about getting a faulty book. Then when my stupidity subsided and I realized that was in fact the end I found myself cursing loudly and repeatedly shouting, “WTF?” So basically the end was awesome. I love when stories end in seemingly obscure ways, mostly because in my mind it means the story hasn’t ended. I’m not suggesting that Tharp plans on writing a sequel – I just mean that Sutter’s story continues, on what looks like the exact same path he was heading down when the story first began. Which is incredibly sad because Sutter Keely, despite his obvious flaws, is really quite special, which in turn is what makes The Spectacular Now special. Really it’s just a story about a series of events; there are no crazy circumstances, no evil dictatorships to overthrow, or existentially uptight wimpy vampires to fall in love with. Everything that happens is totally plausible. It’s just made so spectacular because of an awesome character, and great writing.
I’m curious to see how this story has been translated to film (despite the fact that it once again stars Shailene Woodley – apparently the only young female actress suitable for any YA novel film adaptations. Which by the by I totally don’t agree with and I’m a little filled with rage that she’s been cast in The Fault in Our Stars, but that’s a rant for another time kids.)
The Spectacular Now is one of those books that seem like a rarity in YA novels at the moment – it’s a simple story, about a regular kid who’s regular life is made extraordinary because of who he is and how he lives. It’s a breath of fresh air and a really great read.
Oh and for anyone interested, here’s a link to one of the trailer’s for the movie: The Spectacular Now