Sunday, January 05, 2014

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

I was going back through old reviews assuming that I had blogged Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.  Ooops!  If you feel a need to catch up before this one, head over to HuffPo and see what they have to say.

We start off with Nate escaping from his dreary bullied existence in Jankburg to go live with his Aunt Heidi in Queens and understudy for E.T. in E.T.: The Musical.  He's not sure how he is going to make it sans best friend Libby.

His first dose of rehearsal is complete with a sense of disorientation, dread and filled with full time theater kids.  You know, the ones that attend the Professional Performing Arts School for kids?  The ones who have side-eye implied in their questions?  Nate isn't exactly seasoned in theater, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm and observation skills.  Before he knows it, he is assigned to be Alien #7 as well as one of two understudies to be E.T.  It becomes apparent before long that there is some dissension among the ranks of the director (who doesn't even remember Nate's name), producers and choreographers of the show.

Nate, however, has other things to worry about.

Things like the fact that Libby seems to have taken up with one of his old bullies back in a romantic way.  Things like the other E.T. understudy, Asella, wants to take him out for mani-pedis and run lines.  Things like the secret admirer Nate seems to have acquired.

Listen, I'm going to be honest with you -- I am not a musical girl.  I have an active disdain for many if not most things theater, but do you know what?  Federle won me over.  Why?  Because these books aren't about Broadway or call backs or auditions.  These books are about the characters.  Nate is a kid who is definitely a square peg.  He doesn't fit in in his small town, or in his family and frankly he's not a perfect fit in the theater either.  But what Federle does so well is write the relationships.  There aren't any throw-away characters in here.  Everyone is here for a reason and works in a way to either build Nate up, or help him learn something about himself.  The character dynamic doesn't go one way either.  Often Nate helps other characters be more of themselves (Aunt Heidi, Jordan, Asella).

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention these books fill an enormous void.  Yes, Nate is gay, but as he puts it in the first book - "My sexuality, by the way, is off-topic and unrelated".  Federle makes Nate's sexuality only one facet in his life.  There is no hammer of message coming down, which I appreciate and I think readers will too.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate isn't just for theater kids.  Or gay kids.  Or small town kids.  It's the kind of book that crosses genders and genres.  Because after all, it's all about relationships.

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