Transformation in THE SPECTACULAR NOW


Author: Tim Tharp

Number of Pirates in the book: 0

Rating: 5 gold doubloons! 


I must start by saying that the creative geniuses who debated the merits of putting a simple cup on the cover of Tim Tharp’s contemporary YA novel, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, should be congratulated.  At first glance, I thought it was one of the least exciting books I’d ever seen.  And I’ve seen many, working in a library. A cup. I mean, who are they trying to attract? Readers who work in fast food joints? Those who hope to use the book to fall asleep? Thirsty people? 

Then, I read the book. And I got it.

The cup is more than the simple representation of main character Sutter Keely’s alcoholism. It’s that he would think it was simply a cup. Nothing more, nothing less.  And he’d be fine with that. Only, he’d probably weave the cup into an unbelievable story about how it totally saved his life when he bent over to pick it up, just as a telephone wire overhead snapped and almost sliced him into two equal parts Sutterman. Yeah, it would’ve been epic.

Sutter Keely is a high school senior who wants only two things in life—his booze and his girl. Following a series of hilarious and dumb mistakes, we think he’s come to the end of his drinking days when his beautiful fat girlfriend, Cassidy, dumps him for not taking their relationship seriously. But no, after a night of serious woe-is-me partying, he winds up passed out in the front yard of local papergirl, Aimee Finecky, who allows him into her life even though she probably knows better.

True to Sutter’s crazy mixed up wonderful world, he takes Aimee on as his project, hoping to thank her for her kindness by helping her to come out of her shell.

"Right now, I have my own miniature aid plan to work on—going to Aimee’s to get tutored. See, by letting her help me, I’ll be helping her. She gets confidence, and I get the satisfaction of bringing confidence to someone who needs it worse than a pop singers needs rehab. Hey, it may not change the world, but for the two of us, it’s a win-win situation.”

And it is. Sort of.

Sutter isn’t just a storyteller—although he does that with amazing charm and insight. He lives and breathes his stories, to many a captive audience, I might add. Although you’d think someone who is perpetually drunk or stoned couldn’t possibly have anything intelligent to say, Sutter manages to enthral just about anyone who ventures into his daily life, including anyone who reads this book. I was hooked at page two, and I didn’t want to like him at all. Not even a little bit.

What sets him apart from other characters in YA books is not his serious drinking problem, or his lack of ambition, but his heart. Yes, the Sutterman has the biggest heart you’ll ever come across in a piece of fiction. Okay, so he’s a bit misguided when it comes to his actions, but he dives straight into things and sees them through to the end, no matter how bad his intentions were to start. And usually, it works out for him. Well, I wanted it to work out for him.

THE ABSOLUTE NOW is all about transformation---Sutter’s, Aimee’s, and the reader’s---without any of the preachy lessons that could be found in a typical tome about drinking and the teenage experience. I came away from this hearing Sutter’s voice in my head for days, and wondering how he was faring in the world of adults. No doubt, just fine.

Sometimes, a cup is just a cup. And sometimes, a teenage boy is as complex as Sutter Keely.

The movie version has just been released after debuting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Read the book before you see it. It's a fabulous summer read! I’m having a hard time getting my mind around Miles Teller as Sutter, but, uh, okay. And just a note to all the filmmakers out there---Shailene Woodley CANNOT star in every movie based on a YA novel. Love the girl, but just saying.