So I just finished Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now and ouch. That’s a book that’ll punch you in the gut.
I had been itching to get my hands on this book for almost a year now. I caught the trailer for the movie online and decided, as I do with 99.9% of cases, that I needed to read the novel first. So onto my list the book went to sit and wait. And wait and wait and wait. And wait until finally this past Monday I borrowed it from my lovely Bible study leader.
It’s not a very thick read (clocks in at 294 pages) and is incredibly engaging, so I had no problem breezing through it in just a couple of days. Granted, it helps that today’s rainy weather made the perfect background noise for a multi-hour reading sesh (it’s probably also to blame for the fact that I’ve somehow forgotten to eat anything since lunch? Oops.).
But back to the book: Our protagonist is Sutter Keely, a highly unmotivated and heavy-drinking high school senior, who also happens to be one of the most optimistic and personable characters I’ve ever encountered in literature. He’s charismatic, philosophical, and incredibly kind– traits you don’t often see attributed to the hard-partying characters typically used as “sermon illustrations” in YA literature. Sutter is written with great honesty, even if the character is not always honest with himself.
The plot centers around Sutter and his evolving relationship with high school wallflower Aimee Finecky, who, like everyone else in the book, we view through Sutter’s first-person narration. Thankfully for the reader, Sutter thinks deeply when he’s buzzed (which is about 93% of the book), so we’re painted this wonderful, sincere picture of the shy paper delivery girl who uses science fiction novels and her dreams of the future to escape the reality of her depressing home life.
What’s unique about the relationship between Sutter and Aimee is that it’s so obviously unhealthy and is actually candidly dealt with in that light. It isn’t treated like a stereotypical cautionary tale, nor does it glorify the toxicity of the relationship. It’s clear to the readers that yes, these two may mean a great deal to each other, but no, this is not a relationship that needs to be put on a pedestal. Goodness, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read a YA romance that is so honestly dealt with.
And TSN deals with a lot of things beyond just a toxic relationship, and deals with them just as genuinely, including broken families and the unique nature of high school friendships. And then it’s all “wrapped up” with a nice open ending that left me with the punched-gut feeling mentioned above.
I’ll be interested to see the film now, though I think I’ll give it a month or two so I can forget the finer edges of the story (I always recommend this as standard practice). I’ve heard that Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley gave insanely good performances as Sutter and Aimee, respectively, so that certainly helps. And I’ll most likely be checking out Tharp’s three other books in the near future (Knights of the Hill Country appears to feature high school football pretty heavily, so I’m already on board for that one).
tl;dr: If you can handle the sucker-punched feeling with which it will leave you, make sure The Spectacular Now earns a spot on your reading list. It’s blissfully honest, and that’s one of the greatest things a book can be.