#PGHReads: The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

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Kirkus Reviews declared Quinn Roberts, protagonist of The Great American Whatever by Pittsburgh author Tim Federle, “a Holden Caulfield for a new generation.” The two certainly have some things in common, primarily a vague dissatisfaction with life. Yet in many ways, they’re opposites. Holden runs off on his own to New York, but Quinn stagnates, spending six months in his bedroom.

After his sister, Annabeth, dies in a car accident, he stops going to classes and retreats from society. When summer arrives, all he’s accomplished is stacking up a ton pizza boxes and running out of clean shirts. Dreams of filmmaking classes with his sister have evaporated, but he’s kept the half-finished application. Just as his mother can’t get rid of Annabeth’s expired snacks, he can’t bring himself to part with this last memory.

Nor can he bear to turn on his phone and find out what she texted him right before she died.

On an especially hot day, his best friend, Geoff, shows up and drags him out of the house, ostensibly to buy a new air conditioner. They end up going to a party that night, where Quinn meets a cute college guy and everything changes. After months of moping, he now has something to want. His biggest concern is that Amir might be straight, but this fear is disproven when Quinn finds a phone number slipped into his pocket.

Aside from being a quality coming-of-age story, The Great American Whatever is also a look at Pittsburgh through Quinn’s eyes. Anyone who’s been to Kennywood will enjoy scenes that take place on the Jackrabbit and Racer. Another key chapter is set on a Gateway Clipper ship.

The voice of this first-person narrative is authentic, although the use of “goes” as a speech tag is a little distracting. Quinn is a believable seventeen-year-old, unsure of who he is or wants to be. Without his sister to direct and edit, does he want to write screenplays anymore? How is he going to come out to his mother, who has done little but sleep and let mail pile up since Annabeth’s death?

The Great American Whatever is well-written and hard to put down. I enjoyed the way Quinn viewed life as if it were a screenplay, wishing he could write it the way he wants. This book would be a great addition to anyone’s collection of Pittsburgh authors.

This post sponsored by our friends at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


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