Tim Tharp – The Spectacular Now

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This National Book Award Finalist is now a major motion picture — one of the most buzzed-about films at Sundance 2013, starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller.

SUTTER KEELY. HE’S the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.

Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

I watched the movie with Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, but didn’t know that it was a book until we decided to read it for book club. In regards to book vs. movie, the movie certainly kept the important parts of the book – some were even direct quotes. However, the movie has an ending that I would say… left people more satisfied. The ending of the book was not bad, it just didn’t go the way people would have expected it. I would have liked it to have gone another way, but there’s no denying that it was hands-down realistic.

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The book is told in the POV of Sutter, who is your typical popular, ne’er do well that has no aspirations for the future and lives in the now. He is an engaging, captivating, and utterly realistic narrator that really draws the reader into his story and the lessons he learns. Sutter is a master storyteller, and has an affinity for partying and drinks. The book starts with him living in the now and his no-regrets attitude, but as the story progresses, Sutter starts to reflect more about his choices and the consequences they create.

“Listen, it’s hard not to have a good time around me. I know what I’m doing. I’m a fun guy. I spread the prosperity to each and all.”

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It’s quite a while until Amie is introduced to the story. She is a nerd, through and through. Amie has goals in her life and dreams of working at NASA and living in a horse ranch. Although Shailene Woodley is a great actress and played the part well, I think that she has too much of a natural confidence in her that wasn’t in conjuction with Amie’s shyness. Amie isn’t the hot-girl-hiding-behind-glasses. She really is a nerd who fantacizes about science fiction novels and comics.

“She’s cute, too, in a nerdy sort of way. You know the look – glasses that ride down on the nose, pale skin from staying inside too much, mouth hanging slightly open in that classic nerd mouth-breather style.”

Amie is so pure, so innocent, so naive compared to Sutter, but I think they provide a nice foil to each other. Each has something to learn from the other, and their relationship just made my heart go unf. 

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Sutter and Amie’s interactions are so sweet but heartbreaking at the same time. But that’s life, right? Not everything is shiny stars and unicorns in their popular-boy-meets-nerdy-girl world. They both experience pain from each other and other people, as well as empathize with their situations. Amie’s character really grows under the tutelage of Sutter throughout the story, but Sutter himself learns so much when facing the consequences of his actions when they are together. Their relationship tore me up, as each one depended on the other in the midst of everything that’s happening in their lives.

“And the truth is I miss Aimee. She has a way about her that latches on to you. It’s nothing big or audacious. It’s small and cool, like the first sip of beer on a hot afternoon.”

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The secondary characters were also realistic. Friends come and go, relationships build and crash, and some people stay the same. Sutter interacts with people who act in all sorts of different ways – but in the end, they were all reflections of the relationships that happen in the real world.

The end of this book sent my emotions realing. It was just so raw and down to earth. I have to admit, I wanted to give the book lower stars because of it. Like I said, I watched the movie before reading so I really expected other things to happen, and finding out that I read the last page just left a hole in my chest. However, pushing my disappointment aside, it still stands that the ending was compatible to the rest of the story – honest, authentic, and heart-wrenching. 

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Rating: 4.5/5

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