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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.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published October 20, 2008

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About the author

Tim Tharp

5 books337 followers
Tim Tharp lives in Oklahoma where he writes novels and teaches in the Humanities Department at Rose State College. In addition to earning a B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and an M.F.A. from Brown University, Tim Tharp has been a factory hand, construction laborer, psychiatric aid, long-distance hitchhiker, and record store clerk. His first novel, Falling Dark (Milkweed Press), was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. Knights of the Hill Country (Knopf Books for Young Readers) is his first novel for young adults and was named to the American Library Association's Best Books of 2007 list. Tim's new YA novel, The Spectacular Now, (Knopf Books, Nov. 2008) was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award.

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5 stars
7,482 (17%)
4 stars
14,473 (34%)
3 stars
13,641 (32%)
2 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,529 reviews
Profile Image for Reynje.
272 reviews965 followers
December 3, 2012
On finishing The Spectacular Now I feel hollowed out and slightly sick – not because the ending was bad but because as much as I didn’t want it to, it ended in probably the most realistic way it could.

Part of me wants to gouge whatever scraps of hope I can from the close of Sutter’s story, hold onto the hints that things can and will eventually change, because not doing that hurts so much. I want to pretend that last chapter doesn’t exist, but in way, it’s that last chapter that makes this book what it is. It’s that ending that makes me acknowledge what I don’t want to see; this is the real world and sometimes things are devastating and not everyone gets a happy ending. There’s no emotional montage, there’s no countdown to the big romantic climax – there’s some tie off, but the ends are left bloody and uncauterised.

That, I believe, is what prevents this from being another “issues” book, another dire warning on how bad choices can screw up a life. I think this book trusts the reader to drawn their own conclusions. And because of that, I think it’s a more realistic portrayal of addiction – it’s not a black and white story. We see the patterns of desctruction and the harm Sutter causes to himself and those around him, but we also see the charisma, the charm and the highs that perpetuate the cycle. It’s sympathy and abhorrence all wound up in a complicated tangle of being able to relate and yet being a helpless oberserver as events escalate toward the conclusion.

I can’t state enough how the relationship between Sutter and Aimee tore at me. Tharp wrote this part of the story so powerfully; I felt anxious and helpless as I read, knowing where it was going and wanting to close my eyes to it, yet knowing there was no other way it could go.

There were so many scenes in between them – Aimee’s vulnerability and complete lack of guile, - just tore me up inside. I absolutely believed these two people, and how they interacted. Sutter’s actions - whether selfish, compassionate or simply misguided -felt authentic. That he would carry out his final decision in the manner he chose too was awful but ultimately understandable – I believed that he would do that and that he would feel it was the best way he could do it.

Tharp’s subtley in portraying Sutter’s downslide was handled well. He keeps us firmly in Sutter’s point of view, but allows us glimpses of the altering perspectives around him, the way others begin to perceive his behaviour. These voices, on the fringes of Sutter’s awareness, balance out his wilful blindness. We’re made aware of his own downward trajectory by the changes in the people who surround him, or who used to surround him. Tharp manages to convey the seriousness of what’s going on without slipping out of Sutter’s voice, and without beating the reader over the head with heavy messaging.

The weakest part of this story for me was the plotline with Sutter’s father. I feel like this was truncated in order to fit within the confines of the novel, and not strictly realistic in terms of how quickly and fully Sutter’s moment of realisation hit. It’s a minor quibble though, it’s not the circumstances I don’t buy, but rather now they are neatly shoehorned into the climax of the book.

If I put aside my hurt, raw feelings about the ending of this book – I can be objective and realise that it’s brilliant. Sutter is an accessible and compelling narrator – even while being appalled at his actions it’s easy to remain engaged by him, taken in by his easy charm. It’s the kind of writing that sinks its hooks in without realising that it’s happening. You get caught up in the rhythm of Sutter’s voice and the warp of his perspective. So much so that even while I suspected all along this book and I were not going to ride off into a sunset of happiness, I still felt sucker punched at the end.

So perhaps the most powerful thing about this book is not just it’s unapologetic honesty, but that when it delivers it’s final blow, it’s not the one you’re expecting. But it’s the one that’s the most real. So it hurts the worst.

* * * * *
Oh shit, that ending. I feel like someone has dug out my insides with a blunt spoon.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
July 24, 2016

Okay... so I've been putting off this review because I was unsure about my rating. My initial reaction was FIVE STARS!! FIVE STARS!! but then I got to thinking about my dislike for the ending and thought maybe I should round it down to four... and then I was like "but is my problem with the ending because it was bad - or because it didn't go the way I wanted it to?"... so I eventually kept my five stars because I am so completely in love with the amazingly complicated and wonderful character that is Sutter Keely. He is complex, multi-dimensional, so vibrant and full of life that it's hard to accept that he isn't real and about to jump off the page.

Tim Tharp has written a very funny, sad, thoughtful book that creates such an in-depth picture of a boy who is simultaneously lovable and exhausting. I am friends with the female equivalent of Sutter Keely, a person who you always want at your parties because you know they'll bring every social situation to life, a person who is kind and means well but is very hard to deal with in any more than small doses, a person who is nearly always just a little drunk. How many times have I rolled my eyes and thought "okay, give it a rest now"? I think I can appreciate the world through their eyes a little bit more after reading The Spectacular Now.

Sutter is the kind of multi-layered character I love to read about. On the surface he's a warm-hearted, over-the-top drunk, the kind of guy who's popular in high school but will probably never end up achieving his potential because his aspirations don't extend further than locating his next alcohol fix. Underneath all this he is troubled and sad and lonely, people often think that a drinker's problem is the alcohol, but nine times out of ten it runs far deeper than this. His dad is nowhere to be seen, his mum and stepdad seem to have forgotten he exists except for when they pause to threaten him with military school, his best friend no longer wants to hang around with him, he's just been dumped... and then along comes Aimee. The one person in the world who has ever seemed to need him, truly need him, to get her life back in order, to gain confidence and to sort out her future. Can Sutter finally make a difference beyond the small realm of his booze-fuelled spectacular now?

I'm still not sure how I feel about that ending. Do I like the fact that this book doesn't carry the message that we were all hoping for and expecting? Not really. But is this a representation of real life in all its fucked up, messy, sad, sometimes funny glory? Probably... yeah, probably. I guess in real life not everyone gets saved and perhaps that was what Tim Tharp was trying to say.
Profile Image for K-L.
19 reviews18 followers
July 25, 2013
"Life is a big, screwed-up joke with its ups and downs. The best way to deal with it is to live in the now, pursue all the pleasure and deal with none of the grief."

That's the message I get from Sutter Keely, protagonist of The Spectacular Now. He takes a purely hedonistic, somewhat philosophical world view throughout the book. Tharp gives Sutton a clear, blunt, narrative voice but when it comes to character development, Sutter stays the same person from point A to point B, even with inserting numerous potential turning points for him.

Sutter defines himself as "God's own drunk". And drinking does seem to be his life's philosophy; he barely gets through any encounter in the book without a flask or 7UP/whiskey in hand. He doesn't confront his own problems, despite supposedly 'helping' new love Aimee come out of her shell. He's ultimately a likeable character, but as I read on, he became like a guest who has overstayed his welcome.

As for the plot, where did it go? The plot could easily just have been a set of serial anecdotes. There are too many loose ends, no closure. You're left with too many questions, and no answers--and not in a good way. Maybe that's how Tharp intended for it to go, a story that pantomimes real life for pleasure-seekers. Real life doesn't have closure; sometimes we end up shelving our problems in the back of our drunk brains as life goes on.

I guess that's ultimately the true message of the novel, hopeless as it is. Sutton had a drinking problem, family issues, a skewed view of life, but in the end, he brushes everything aside and lives in the "Spectacular Now".

Conclusions? Well-written, funny, but half-hearted in terms of plot and character development. Instead of a real story, we get a portrait of a hedonistic, broken yet charismatic boy who approaches life with a swagger in his step, a joke in his eyes, and a flask in his hand.
Profile Image for Katrina Passick Lumsden.
1,775 reviews12.8k followers
January 9, 2014
Holy crap, this is a good book.

A heavy book. This is one of those books that I went into thinking it was going to be a romance with a message, but pretty all-around feel-good.

No. Nope. I mean, yeah, there's a message, all right, but this book isn't exactly a fluffy candy feel-good story. So don't go into it thinking it will be. It's funny and philosophical and introspective and reminiscent. Sutter's voice is so authentically teenager that it's obvious Tim Tharp never completely forgot that phase in his own life. Some of us do remember what it was like to be a teenager. How much is sucked at times, but also how amazingly high you could feel even when everything around you was total shit.

It's really hard to encapsulate all the things going through my head after reading a book like this. I just finished it, so while the story and all its intricacies are still fresh, it's also...well, still fresh. It messes with my ability to put everything in words. So I suppose I'll let Tharp's words do it for me:

"It's superb to be out in the early, early morning before the sun comes up. There's this sense of being super-alive. You're in on a secret that all the dull, sleeping people don't know about. Unlike them, you're alert and aware of existing right here in this precise moment between what happened and what's going to happen."

"The whole magnetic thing about sex is you want the other person to want you. I mean, that's what separates us from the animals. That and haircuts."

"Besides, it doesn't matter if it's real. It never does with dreams. They aren't anything anyway but lifesavers to cling to so you don't drown. Life is an ocean, and most everyone's holding on to some kind of dream to keep afloat."

I applaud Mr. Tharp on his realistic, unbiased portrayal of teenagers. His characters have sex, drink, and do drugs, but he never crosses the line into moralizing or overdramatizing. The kids aren't getting so wasted they rape each other or set cars on fire or have dumpster babies, but neither are they preaching about how wrong it is or having serious internal debates about whether or not they should have sex. Things just are, and that's missing in a lot of literature. I've noticed the "to sex or not to sex" dilemma pops up in a lot of YA fiction written by women, and I think it's a subject that really needs to be treated a little more fairly. People seem to think that sex is the end-all, be-all of teenage stories, when really, being a teenager is about a lot more than hormones. Sometimes, your teenage son or daughter having sex isn't the thing you should be worrying about most.

I couldn't get over Sutter. Kid breaks my heart every time I think of him. So much love to give, so much potential for emotional greatness, an untapped inner prosperity that some of us only dream of having. He's such a cynic at heart, but tries so hard to be optimistic, and then his optimism shines through in such a twisted, almost nihilistic way. He can't plan for the future because he has no hope, but he can't come to grips with that. He's one of those guys that's in denial all the time. He's not depressed because, hey, what does he have to be depressed about? He's not an alcoholic because, hey, he can quit any time he wants to. He's not in love with anyone because, hey, what is love, anyway? On the surface he seems really superficial, but as you get to know him, you see the kid's got a heart bigger than most and, sadly, it's been beaten to a bloody pulp and I'm not sure if there's much anyone can do about it.

Like I said, it's heavy. But a really, really good heavy.
Profile Image for Philip.
497 reviews661 followers
June 4, 2021
3.5 ish stars.

Call me an idiot if you like, but I didn't realize this book existed until a week ago. I ended up seeing the theatrical adaptation at a free screening when it first came out in 2013 not really knowing what I was getting myself into (except, of course, a movie theater- for free) but the movie affected me and I fell in love with it because it immediately connected to my experience as a young adult without resorting to terminal illnesses or similar plot devices to get me invested into the lives of the characters. It's embarrassing for me to admit that I chalked it up to the screenwriters as being the brilliant masterminds behind the story, when really it's Tim Tharp who gave them the prime material to work with. It wasn't until good ol' Goodreads suggested the book to me that I realized my life had been a lie. I immediately started reading and was affected all over again in the best way.

It's kind of hard for me to separate the book from the movie after having seen it and my review would probably be a little different if I were able to differentiate them adequately. For example, my perception of Aimee might be a little different if I hadn't already fallen in love with Shailene Woodley's portrayal of her. Without her filling in the gaps, would I find book Aimee and her relationship with Sutter as believable? I don't know, but I think probably not. Or not as much.

And that ending... Would I hate it if I didn't supplement it with the ending of the movie? I mean, I like to tell myself that I respect "realist" endings- ones that don't need to end happy and tie up all loose ends. But deep down I'm a sentimentalist, dang-it! I choose to hold on to hope, just like Aimee, and for that reason, I love this book. Or maybe just the book/movie hybrid. There's no way to know anymore....
Profile Image for Juliana Zapata.
280 reviews4,209 followers
July 2, 2015
La verdad es que este libro fue una desilusión absoluta, una historia corriente, aburrida y lenta de leer. No conecte con ningún personaje de la historia, el desenlace fue totalmente predecible, la verdad no tengo nada bueno que decir de este libro.

Reseña Completa: http://bastvilard.blogspot.com/2015/0...
Profile Image for Alyssa.
365 reviews283 followers
September 3, 2011
Life’s a party for Sutter Keely because he’s the life of the party. He’s the guy who has friends from every social circle, can get people laughing in awkward situations, and has a smile every time you see him. He’s the definition of “happy drunk,” and since he’s drunk all the time, he’s just a happy guy all around. He lets nothing get him down, not even when his “beautiful fat girlfriend” Cassidy dumps him or when Ricky, his best friend, starts to follow the clean route. Nope, nothing, not even the absence of his father or the fakeness of his female relatives, can get Sutter down, because there’s always another drink for ‘God’s own drunk.’

Everyone knows a guy like Sutter Keely. I happen to know three or four. He’s the guy who’s so sweet, so kind and warm-hearted, the type who you could see turning out to be something big but will never get anywhere because he thinks he’s bound to head down the downward spiral. He’s the guy who looks shallow on the outside but is really intellectual and spectacular on the inside. He’s the guy who’s in the absence of dreams and heroes and has to go looking to something else to abandon that emptiness. I loved Sutter, this broken, broken boy. He had the biggest heart, and his intentions were always in the right place, even if he made bad decisions and things didn’t always turn out like he planned. I think Tharp reflected alcoholism realistically and suitably on Sutter, even if sometimes it was hard for me, loving Sutter and all, to handle a 7UP and whiskey nearly every scene.

Sutter starts out a drunk in the beginning of the book, and not many changes happen with him as we go along. Sutter was the person who could change others but couldn’t change himself – this guy who thinks he’s incapable of being loved loves others so well because he won’t let others fall to pieces. I think such is why this book isn’t as depressing as it could have turned out – there’s hope and there’s the fact that addiction doesn’t identify a person. Cassidy, after Sutter, would have had to be my favourite character. Not only did Tharp give her a personality - ex-girlfriend's are real people, you know - but he gave her rendition and space to show why Sutter loved her in the first place. A lot of the time, you'll read about an ex-girlfriend that's a complete bitch, and you wonder how the main character could love that. Cassidy, even if not a huge character, sort of made the book for me, as did Ricky, the multi-dimensional best friend who was exactly perfect and nothing like other best friends who have all the potential but never make anything of it.

Tharp presented the life of teens as well as he did alcoholism. Where I go to school, sure, there are social circles and the “popular” kids, but everyone hangs out with everyone. Life isn’t always the geek-VS-jock bullshit we’re always reading about and Tharp reflected that aspect perfectly. I think he chose a risky subject to write about – taking a look at other reviews, people seem to think he went overboard – but that he did it justice. I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, honestly – it’s a hard book to read, it tackles subjects that not all people are comfortable reading about, and you have to dig deep to find the layered message – but it’s a book that can really impact a person if they take the time to read it through.

The first two sentences might be complete turn-offs – “So, it’s a little before ten a.m. and I’m just starting to get a good buzz on. Theoretically, I should be in Algebra II, but in reality I’m cruising over to my beautiful fat girlfriend Cassidy’s house.” – but whatever you do, don’t stop reading. This likely won’t be a story you’ll soon forget.

Audience: 14+ (questionable content, questionable language, sexual occurrences, drug abuse, alcohol abuse)
Rating: 5/5
Recommend?: I wish for you to read this book.
Profile Image for Ariana.
936 reviews1,299 followers
March 20, 2015
Here we go..

It would have been a 5stars book except for Aimee (I couldn't figure her out and she was a bit too naive for my taste; all that planning scared me to be honest.. and not telling anyone her secret? oh boy, that's just wrong) and the ending (which I still don't get, not really.. I might need to re-read the last page). Can I also have one more page please?

So.. a full review might follow - if I'll have some down time to write it *sigh* - but 'til then this is what I liked:

- Sutter - with his fun side and the deep side (that he hides behind his remarks and his drinking and him making other people have a good time).
- His little chats with his best friend (even though the "best" part is quite doubtable)
- His inner thoughts - he might not sound like a real guy, but he had me laughing or thinking about some things he said here an there.. I have tons of quotes that I liked to testify if you won't have my word)
- The writing - I just picked this book up and couldn't put it down. I didn't want to.
- Also I loved remembering high-school - so many parties, having fun, having no worries, feeling free, forgetting about everything bad and finding ways to enjoy every moment. It's not like we don't do those things now, but we are more quite about it, less free, more down-to-earth .. or it just feels this way.
- Aaaaand.. some other things that might spoil the fun for you

Anyways, I loved this story, the humor, the emotional part.. everything. I thought it was supposed to be a light, funny read (not sure where I got that idea from) but at times it felt pretty heavy.

And yes, there is swearing and drinking and some talk about sex, I am not sure why people keep warning about hese things in their reviews, where do you live in a bubble so you don't find that in real life?
No, no need to explain, I get that you don't like reading about those things (I am getting bothered by other things too that don't seem to bother you one bit) I just had it on the tip of my fingers, so I had to let it out.

Also I am not sure how you do it (the parenting stuff), but when I was young it only took my parents to not let me do some things and .. challenge accepted! ^_^
If you don't buy a book for them, they will borrow it from their friends and read it without you knowing it.
And even though there are drugs and a lot of drinks and driving (while having a drink) in this story, there are many other things that make this book worth reading... and by young people too.

Back to the point:
Loved this book, Tim Tharp I am keeping my eyes on you now!

PS: Oh.. [the 3rd thing I didn't like that much:] I know that boys don't necessarily like skinny girls, but the "fat girlfriend" thing got old and pretty fast. Yes, I got it the first time around, she was fat and beautiful.


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"The color flow into your lungs, into your bloodstream. You are the colors".
( ~ Amazon preview )

How in the world did I forget to order this book?
I'm telling you, I'm getting old :)))
Profile Image for Cari.
59 reviews12 followers
June 9, 2015
Every time I read a book that is popular I almost always end up hating it. What's wrong with me? Or maybe I should as what is wrong with everyone else?!

I wanted to read this book before I went to go see the movie, but I only want to go see the movie so I can scope out the acting of the two main characters since they are both casted for Divergent. As soon as I read the first sentence of the book I should have just put the book down and walked away.

I did't like the style in which this book was written, I felt like I was listening to a stupid self absorbed teenager talking non-sense. If this book was a person... description

There was no plot, he just kept telling stories that didn't build anything, I'd often catch myself daydreaming while reading... readdreaming?

This book had no conflict. Sorry having your main character being an alcoholic doesn't cut it as main conflict.

How this book won/was nominated for awards floors me. I can't believe adults even allow their children to read this. If I had teens I would most certainly not allow them to read it. I absolutely hate alcohol, but this book glorifies it. The main character drinks and drinks and glorifies drinking, kids will read this book and be like "wow he's got something going here maybe I should try it." Then he drinks and drives ALL the time. I hate it.

He talks about not remembering what happened the pervious night he was obviously black out drunk, anyone who knows anything KNOWs that being black out drunk, you can not drive safely. You can't even walk, but this kids some how does it every day with no consequences. Then tenes are reading this book and thinking it's no big deal! It is a big deal!

just NO!
Profile Image for Basuhi.
32 reviews243 followers
December 30, 2013
2.5 Stars

-It was a tad too predictable with no real closure to go with.
-I don't like Sutter, he's that guy I cannot stand being with morph into that guy I cannot stand believing in.
-I don't like Aimee. She is too naive(?) for a 17 year old and simply too dependent on Sutter for everything which is actually worse than the nerd believing in equestrian fantasies before.
-The ending ? Was there one ? Sutter's drinking problem (Alcoholism like his isn't some piece of cake to quit). Aimee turning into a lush. Moving in together. Dad. Mom. Oh just forget about it, here's his 7up and Goodbye. 

Profile Image for Greg.
1,106 reviews1,807 followers
January 15, 2011
This is a weird book. The book itself is pretty straight-forward, the narrator is a high school senior named Sutter who likes to drink and is the life of the party. The party to him though is all of life. He's always the life of the party even though most people probably don't realize the party is happening. He lives by the motto of 'embrace the weird', meaning just go with whatever happens and make the best of it. Part of his embracing whatever happens is knocking back enough whiskey to make the weird palatable and normal.

What's weird to me is that this is classified as a teen book. I don't want to come across as priggish or a prude or anything like that, but I usually figured teen books should have some kind of 'good' in them. They should be some kind of mini-little-morality-play. Sutter should realize that his life is going no-where, he should have some moment where he sees that there needs to be more to life than acting like the fun jackass and being drunk all the time.

If I substitute the drinking in the book for smoking copious amounts of pot on a daily basis Sutter isn't all that different from quite a few friends and acquaintances of mine in my late high school and college years. Thinking of Sutter as some of my old friends, this song started to play in my head. The weird innocence of being young and fucked up, something that maybe it's fine to be but which doesn't really last and eventually becomes being a fucked up fuck up.

As the book moved on I wanted to see Sutter learn something, and everytime he seemed to learn a lesson he would in no time show the bit of learning he did to be an aberration that was quickly corrected by another reckless action. Even towards the end of the book the progress that the reader sees him make is put into relief by the very last chapter that can be seen as either a stand for youth against the encroachment of early adulthood or as someone who is never really going to learn anything as long as there are people willing to cheer him on for his antics. Which makes me think that instead of the wistful reminiscences of the Wilco song above Sutter's future is more likely going to be more like this darker Uncle Tupelo song.
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
459 reviews162k followers
August 12, 2016
Wow. I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I'm going to sleep on it. Full review to come!
Profile Image for ALPHAreader.
1,090 reviews
January 25, 2013
Everyone knows that if you want a good time, you call Sutter Keely. He’s the guy with a bar in his boot, enough whisky in his flask to go round and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘embarrassment’. There’s no doubt that Sutter is the life of any party – but when it comes to relationships, he fizzes pretty quick. He’s accumulated a string of ex-girlfriends in his eighteen years, and remained friends with every single one of them. But right now he’s hoping to hold on to his current girlfriend, the gloriously fat and beautiful Cassidy – of Icelandic eyes and Nordic locks. But Sutter can’t do the one thing that Cassidy asks of him; to consider her feelings. So Cassidy dumps him, and Sutter finds healing in the bottom of a whisky bottle. . .

Aimee Finicky finds Sutter passed out on a strangers’ lawn. Of course she knows who he is, they’ve been going to the same school for years now and she can remember every class they shared and every hilarious thing he did – he’s cool and popular, so it’s no wonder he doesn’t recognise quiet, shy Aimee.

After sharing a paper-route one morning, Sutter decides to ‘save’ Aimee. She has no self-esteem, a gambling mother and Walrus-like stepfather. She wears a purple puffer jacket that makes her look like a Christmas ornament, and her best friend is a miniature tyrant. Sutter decides to take her under his wing, and not a moment too soon.

But it might not be Aimee who’s in desperate need of help. After all, Sutter has never quite recovered from his parent’s divorce and lies to himself about his idyllic absentee father. His sister has been angry with him ever since he set her husband’s suit on fire. And his best friend, Ricky, has gained a girlfriend and some perspective on Sutter’s wild partying ways. Then, of course, there’s Cassidy – who Sutter stills pines for, and intends to win back.

Sutter Keely may be the life of every party, but at some point the lights always come on and the music eventually fades.

‘The Spectacular Now’ is the 2008 young adult novel by Tim Tharp, which was a National Book Award Finalist.

I've been recommended this book for a solid five years now. I bought it and added to the TBR pile, and would occasionally re-read the blurb or scan the first page – but I was never moved to read. And then I heard from Persnickety Snark that a film adaptation was screening to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival. This intrigued me. And when I found out Shailene Woodley (‘The Descendants’) was in the lead as Aimee, I decided to get on board this bandwagon. And I’m sooooooo glad I did, because ‘The Spectacular Now’ is flippin’ superb, and if it's half as good a movie as it is a book, then it will live up to the spectacular.

There’s a certain plot trope called ‘Beautiful All Along’ – which is as it sounds, that a nerdy-type girl is plucked out of social obscurity by the popular jock who then makes her over, only to discover she was Beautiful All Along. Weeeeeeell . . . Tim Tharp takes that trope, puts it into a blender and hits ‘obliterate’, and what pours out is a disarmingly complex and refreshing young adult novel that’s part comedy with a heavy dose of stalled morality.

Our ‘jock’ in this case is no jock, but rather popular party boy Sutter Keely who doesn’t think he’s an alcoholic, even though he frequently drinks first thing in the morning and by himself. He’s a good, harmless guy but he’s vapid and seriously lacking in self-awareness. Aimee is no nerd, but rather a downtrodden wallflower with the world on her shoulders. And rather than the Beautiful All Along story being told from Aimee’s perspective, we get it from Sutter’s. This is not a romance – and that will frustrate some people. Sutter is not a knight in shining armour – he’s a ticking time bomb who doesn’t know he is his own detonator and Aimee is his doomed damsel.

Tharp has such a great rhythm in this book. Sutter is a genuinely funny guy, he’s charismatic and oozing a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him utterly endearing. But slowly Tharp starts chipping away at Sutter’s armour to reveal the crippling lies he tells himself – and readers start to see what a few of his classmates have already realized; that Sutter believes those lies.

While I was reading this I was thinking that it would be a hard book to adapt, only because the writing is so lush and Sutter’s interior voice so vital to the book. Tharp writes something delicious. It’s little things in the description;

Her voice is so soft. If it were a food item, it’d be a marshmallow.

But Sutter’s worldview monologues are also kinda brilliant, and I'd hate to lose them in the screenplay. So I was really happy to see one movie review in particular that says there are long stretches of banter and blocks of back-and-forth dialogue between characters.

We’re not the Faster-than-the-Speed-of-Light Generation anymore. We’re not even the Next-New-Thing Generation. We’re the Soon-to-Be-Obsolete Kids, and we’ve crowded in here to hide from the future and the past. We know what’s up – the future looms straight ahead like a black wrought-iron gate and the past is charging after us like a badass Doberman, only this one doesn’t have any letup in him.

Now, as to the Sutter and Aimee ‘romance’ – some people will hate it. They’ll just downright hate it. But I revelled in its originality and honesty; I was so glad that Tharp took the road less travelled in teen romances, and the book is the better for it.

“Hey, I told you – I’m not going to ask her out for a date. Let me repeat, she is not a girl I’m interested in having sex with. Not now or any time in the future. I will not have sex with her in a car. I will not have sex with her in a bar. I will not have sex with her in a tree. I will not have sex with her in a lavatory-ee. I will not have sex with her in a chair. I will not have sex with her anywhere.”
“Oh right, I forgot. You’re out to save her soul. Give me a hallelujah for Brother Sutter and his messianic complex.”
“My what?”
“Messianic complex. That means you think you have to go around trying to save everybody.”
“Not everybody. Just this one girl.”
“Hallelujah, brother!”

Look, this book will kick your ass a little bit. There’s this weird thing that happens where, as a reader, you become sort of like Sutter’s girlfriends; all those who fell for his rambunctious charm and carefree loving-life in the beginning, but slowly figured out his failings and shortcomings, becoming frustrated with his wasted potential. The ending is brutal perfection, and if Tharp had concluded any other way, then the entire book would have been a sell-out. As it is, ‘The Spectacular Now’ is one of the cleverest and truest YA books I've ever read.
Profile Image for Zoë.
328 reviews66.4k followers
January 23, 2014
This book started out so well but ended unresolved in my eyes. I was expecting a fabulous ending but it fell a bit short. Also, I disliked how Sutter believed that Aimee needed him to change her but didn't fully acknowledge how he needed her to change him too. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the book, but it lacked that certain something that would warrant 5 stars.
Profile Image for Carmen de la Rosa.
469 reviews379 followers
January 29, 2021
Creo estoy completamente enamorada del personaje increíblemente complicado y maravilloso que es Sutter Keely. Es complejo, multidimensional, tan vibrante y lleno de vida que es difícil aceptar que no es real y está a punto de saltar de la página.

Tim Tharp ha escrito un libro muy divertido, triste y reflexivo que crea una imagen tan profunda de un chico que es al mismo tiempo amable y agotador. Soy amiga del equivalente femenino de Sutter Keely, una persona que siempre desea en sus fiestas porque sabe que le dará vida a cada situación social, una persona amable y con buenas intenciones, pero que es muy difícil de manejar en cualquier caso, más que en pequeñas dosis, una persona que casi siempre está un poco borracha. ¿Cuántas veces puse los ojos en blanco y pensé "vale, dale un descanso ahora"? Creo que puedo apreciar el mundo a través de sus ojos un poco más después de leer The Spectacular Now.

Sutter es el tipo de personaje de múltiples capas que me encanta leer. En la superficie, es un borracho de buen corazón, el tipo de persona que es popular en la escuela secundaria pero que probablemente nunca termine alcanzando su potencial porque sus aspiraciones no se extienden más allá de localizar su próxima dosis de alcohol. Debajo de todo esto, él está preocupado, triste y solo, la gente a menudo piensa que el problema de un bebedor es el alcohol, pero nueve de cada diez veces es mucho más profundo que esto. Su padre no está a la vista, su madre y su padrastro parecen haber olvidado que él existe, excepto cuando se detienen para amenazarle con una escuela militar, su mejor amigo ya no quiere estar con él, simplemente lo han dejado ... y Luego viene Aimee. La única persona en el mundo que alguna vez pareció necesitarlo, realmente lo necesita, para volver a poner en orden su vida, ganar confianza y resolver su futuro. ¿Puede Sutter finalmente hacer una diferencia más allá del pequeño reino de su espectacular bebida de alcohol ahora?

Todavía no estoy segura de cómo me siento con ese final. ¿Me gusta el hecho de que este libro no contenga el mensaje que todos estábamos esperando y esperando? Realmente no. ¿Pero es esta una representación de la vida real en toda su jodida, desordenada, triste, a veces graciosa gloria? Probablemente ... sí, probablemente. Supongo que en la vida real no todos se salvan y tal vez eso fue lo que Tim Tharp estaba tratando de decir.

Por cierto si han visto la película notara los pequeños cambios, puedo decir sin temor a equivocarme que me gusto más el final del libro que el de la película y no me pregunte porque, ya que soy una romántica empedernida, tal vez hace bien una pequeña dosis de realidad de vez en cuando.
Profile Image for Dennis.
652 reviews252 followers
January 26, 2019
Didn't turn out the way I hoped it would. And after some pondering I think I actually like it for that exact reason.

It's the story of a high schooler that's partying a lot, drinking way too much and seemingly can't hold on to any relationships with girls. Because at some point being fun and all isn't enough. You have to have some direction in which your life is going. And Sutter just doesn't. He lives in the spectacular now.

The main character is simultaneously loveable and an ass. He definitely has some serious problems and unappealing traits. But he's also got heart. He's not a role model and I really hope teenagers reading this book realize that. But I still liked him.

At one point Aimee steps into his life. She's that nerdy and shy and good-natured and just really sweet girl. You only wish the best for her. And you think she just might be what Sutter needs and you hope he doesn't hurt her.

And then everything was going in a different direction from what I expected.

The book feels very real. Sometimes too real. Because me having to "listen" to Sutter talking like, well, a teenager got on my nerves quite a bit on several occasions. I might be getting a little too old for YA. Or maybe not. There's still hope.

Anyhow, the few annoying bits notwithstanding, this one was funny and sad and even deep sometimes and entertaining all the way through. And just when I was starting to get annoyed about the direction it took I realized I was wrong. After all, I really liked the ending and finally was able to appreciate what the author was doing here.

Now I have to re-watch the movie, because even though I know I liked it, I clearly couldn't remember the details very well.
Good thing we've got that one lined up already. :)

So, we've seen the movie last night and I have to say I didn't like it as much as the first time around.

It stays close to the source material for most of its 95 minute running time. But it's just too short. Some events are left out, of course. And that's really inevitable and was okay. But the two main characters suffer the most from the short running time. They're just not that well developed in the film.

Even though the casting of Miles Teller as Sutter and Shailene Woodley as Aimee was just perfect, they both got shortchanged by the script.

I'm not denying that the movie had emotional impact, especially towards the end. But the characters' motivations became a lot clearer in the book. And even though that's almost always the case, there's a rather vast disparity here.

I also liked it better how the book ended in comparison to the movie. Don't know why they changed it.

Oh well, I still liked it. But the book ruined it a little for me.

The book: 4/5
The movie: 6.5/10
Profile Image for yamika.
27 reviews37 followers
February 16, 2022

It's a wonderful and underrated book.

I think it hasn't been hyped up much because not a lot of people understand and appreciate the depth of it and what this book is trying to accomplish.

It's perfect if you're 17 or 18 and are just finishing up school. It's about making choices about your life. It's about the time when "future" stops being an abstract concept; it's looming large in front of you.

What's unique about this book is the character of Sutter Keely. As per my analysis, he's a static character, and he's in a downward spiral. The author doesn't directly tell us that. Rather, we're made aware of Sutter's downfall through other characters' arcs (because the rest of them are dynamic characters).

If you want to watch my full analysis, here it is. I've also discussed the movie and why I didn't like it. The video contains SPOILERS.

BOOKTALK: The Spectacular Now
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,188 reviews126 followers
August 23, 2020
Moments of my own high school experience flashed through my mind as I read this. It's like going back and glimpsing what's really going on in the mind of the class clown or partier. Funny, sad, pathetic, sympathetic... and most importantly, pretty darn authentic.

Addiction, no matter the age, is complicated... as is young love and figuring it all out before the weight of your future crashes down.

Interesting ending... maybe more authenticity than the reader bargains for... but isn't that just like real life?
Profile Image for Cassi aka Snow White Haggard.
459 reviews154 followers
February 17, 2013
The Spectacular Now is a strange sort of book. I want to lecture it, to give it my own personal big-sister talking to. In some ways I wanted to hate it because the way it almost glorified teenage drinking and partying.

But I can't. Because even if I don't agree with Sutter's methods, he feels like a real believable teenager. Sometimes it's brave for a book to portray drinking (I would call Sutter a teenage alcoholic but I don't think he would) without ever getting preachy or putting on the parent hat. It's disarming, but sometimes it's good for a book to rile us up and challenge what we think is right.

Sutter is one of those kids, the party boy with a heart of gold. To some people this might seem unrealistic, but it's not. I never knew a guy quite like Sutter, but I had a friend who was in and out of trouble in high school. For a goody-two-shoes like me, knowing him was a bit of a revelation. Yes he had problems, illegal ones, but he was a really good friend to me. Sometime's it's easy to label someone as a "bad guy" but it's much more realistic and complicated to acknowledge that sometimes there are good people with good hearts who still do bad things.

Sutter is like that. Yes he's probably an alcoholic, but he's trying to be a good friend and he really does genuinely cares about people. He just doesn't believe he can be anything more than the party guy. Beneath the fun party-loving facade, Sutter's real problem is that he doesn't think he's worthy of being loved. He always thinks everyone is going to leave him. So rather than tackle that head on, he drinks and keeps people at arm's length.

This story is not a lifetime-original movie, where a teenage alcoholic finds redemption. It's a story where Sutter accidentally learns to love and learns to be loved. This book is full of imperfect people who are just trying to figure out how to live life, have fun and be happy without bulldozing over everybody around them.

This book is a rarity. It made me angry, made me think and made me cry. In some ways it feels like a very dangerous books, that a teenager could walk away with entirely the wrong message, but I don't think every YA book needs to preach a sermon. The Spectacular Now tells a good story with believable imperfect characters. People are complicated and messy -- good, bad, stupid, careless, all of the above. But that doesn't mean they aren't valuable and don't contribute something to the world. That's the heart of this book.

Note:I listened to the audiobook and the narration is superb.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,002 reviews351 followers
July 13, 2019
Porque O Presente É Vida...

Esta é a estória de Sutter, um jovem que embora negligenciado pelos pais recusa afogar-se nas águas da tristeza.
Sempre de copo na mão , ele é a Alma de qualquer festa!

É o Jesus Cristo que bebe whiskey com 7Up, sempre pronto a auxiliar quem precisa mas incapaz de se ajudar a si mesmo.

É o folião irresponsável de quem todos gostam mas que ninguém ama.
Vive mergulhado num Mar de Sensações onde lentamente se afunda.

Até que conhece Amie! E ela arrisca amá-lo apesar da colecção de defeitos que Sutter faz questão em exibir, pois Amie é alguém que precisa desesperadamente dum Novo Sutter!...

Entre um Passado de Dor e um Futuro Sem Horizontes, Sutter escolhe o Presente.
Boa, Sutter! Só lamento que tenhas falhado tão drasticamente tantas outras escolhas!...
Profile Image for Marla Mei.
537 reviews292 followers
October 19, 2013
My Actual Rating: 4.5 stars

The Spectacular Now is just so genuine that it hurts. It just hurts in the worst possible way ever.

What shattered me the most was the book's ending. Did it really have to end like that? As much as I want more and even if it tore me to pieces and left me wanting so much more - for Sutter to get better, for him to finally change - I think, yes. Because knowing that if these things happen it will just wash away the realness of this book. That's what life is. It's a mess. And no mess can ever be solved if we don't do anything about it. Sutter, he just remained living in his spectacular now. He thought he could save someone but he never once thought that maybe he was the one in need of saving. But maybe not everybody could ever be saved. I guess that's what Tim Tharp's trying to tell us all.

Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,370 reviews918 followers
November 15, 2015
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Source: Library Checkout

'Another spectacular afternoon. This weather is unbelievable. Of course, that probably means summer is going to be vicious again, but I'm not worried about that now. I was never big on the future. I admire people who are, but it just never was my thing.'

Sutter is spontaneous with a luring personality who lives life solely in the moment. Aimee is plagued by insecurity but has a mind that is saturated with dreams of the future. The two are an unlikely combination but Aimee is mesmerized by the lifestyle Sutter leads and Sutter is convinced he can do Aimee good by giving her the confidence she needs so badly.

'To hell with tomorrow. To hell with all problems and barriers. Nothing matters but the Spectacular Now.'

Oh, Sutter. His character is not portrayed solely as an addict or an alcoholic, instead he's this extremely fun and charismatic person that everyone really can't help but love... he just has a serious problem with alcohol. But that's not his defining feature. There was a complete lack of character development in regards to Sutter; he simply maintained as he was first introduced. I definitely wished I had seen some alteration, even slight, especially since this is highly considered to be a coming of age tale and I require character development in order for that label to be fitting.

Considering this story is told from the point of view of Sutter, everything is glorified because that's the mentality he projects on the world. Unfortunately, the same goes for his alcoholic tendencies. It's reflected in such a glamorized and non-gritty light and I can't help but take issue with that since this book is targeted towards children. Taken at face value I think it would be difficult for children to see past the facade and realize that Sutter has a serious issue. The ending sheds some light on the seriousness but not enough in my opinion. Sutter's story is truly a tragedy, I can only hope that for those children that do read this have parents that are willing to sit down and discuss with them the ravaging effects of alcohol.

Despite his good intentions towards Aimee, their relationship is truly toxic. The effect Sutter had on her was initially beneficial, however, she ended up turning down the exact road as him as her grades began to slip and she began drinking (almost) as much as him. What astonished me most was the family members of both main characters and their complete absence in their lives. I understand being a parent myself and not being able to see issues all the time before they rear their ugly head but Sutter made the fact that he was on a downward spiral loud and clear.

My opinion is quite the unpopular one regarding this book. This was well written and an honest depiction of alcoholism, I just didn't agree with the glamorized feel the book lent it, especially when you consider the target audience.
Profile Image for Halle Watson.
181 reviews7 followers
May 14, 2015
We all know Sutter Keely. Maybe we don’t want to know him. Maybe we are ashamed that we knew him. Maybe we jumped on his bandwagon for a short time in high school, but we likely knew him in one form or another.

He is the life of the party; the one who is okay with destroying people's houses when he parties. The kid that you know has alcohol in the back of his car and can’t seem to knock any sense into himself. He is drunk before, during, and after school (if he doesn’t skip) and is set on enjoying the present, and avoiding the future. He is obsessed with “the spectacular now.”

But for him, it isn’t very spectacular.

I loved this book in spite of Sutter. He wasn’t an enjoyable character and I kept thinking, “I know people just like you. Don’t throw your life away like them!” But he just wasn’t listening to me (or maybe he was too drunk to care). But he was real. Real frustrating. Real annoying. Real reckless, but he was real.

No, Aimee. He is not okay. He is a terrible mess who can't seem to realize he is a mess.

Ricky and Aimee were my favorite characters because they both reacted so differently to Sutter’s lifestyle. Aimee enabled him because she craved love and affection while Ricky enjoyed it until it was time to grow up and think about the future.

Sutter takes Aimee on as a project to show her exactly how spectacular now can be, but he started to ruin Aimee with his lifestyle. She was innocent and kind, but let everyone else walk all over her. He may have taught her how to stand up to her friends and her parents, but never showed her how to stand up to him.

Cute, right? Well it's only cute until he starts to ruin her life in a different way than everyone else did.

The realism in this book was like a slap in the face. Not every story is a gushy romance or a story of redemption. Some stories are just about people never get over their problems and only manage to drag others down with them.

I almost gave this book four stars, but I realized that was so stupid of me. I wanted to take a star from the author because I didn’t like the way it ended, when it was far more likely to end that way all along.

Maybe I didn’t get the ending I wanted, but these characters got the ending they deserved.

This can also be found on my blog Big Hair Bigger Books
Profile Image for izzy baby ♡.
215 reviews39 followers
May 13, 2021
“She's drenched and bedraggled, but I've never loved anyone as much as I love her right now. That's how I know I'll have to give her up.”

Sutter Keely, our main character and narrator, is an a*hole. No sugar-coating, he’s a d*ck, an alcoholic, he’s irresponsible and makes terrible decisions. Yet, I felt so utterly attached to him, his realness and authenticity. He was a boy suffering, even though for the most part he didn’t admit that he was.

The narrator’s voice reminded me a lot of Holden Caulfield’s from The Catcher In The Rye, very sarcastic and all over the place, which adds to how confused and impulsive Sutter is as a person.

The film with Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller has been a favourite of mine for years, ever since I first watched it back in 2013, so I’m clueless as to why it took me this long to read the book. I loved it, just as much as I loved the film, but with that, let me say: it’s not for everyone. You can’t read it expecting a cute romance book. This is Sutter’s story, in which he happens to meet our other main character, Aimee, but still, this isn’t the story of a meet-cute and two people falling in love, it’s the story of Sutter struggling with what he feels for Aimee because he has way too many issues to figure out within himself first.

It’s realistic, funny, sad, and some people might find the ending disappointing, but I love the way that it’s not a period, but a comma in Sutter’s story. The only reason why I won’t give it a 5 is because the book could’ve really benefited from being at least a bit longer, and I don’t even mean the ending, but the middle of it, I wanted more of Sutter and his family and his relationship with Aimee and the people around him.

Still, it was a great read and I highly recommend, just as long as you don’t go into it expecting to read a love story and to agree with everything Sutter Keely does. He’s an a*hole. I still love him, though.
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,126 reviews2,162 followers
August 31, 2013
I'd have never picked up this novel in a million years if it weren't for the fact that the screen writers of "500 Days of Summer" wrote the screenplay for the movie version of this novel. And Shailene Woodley, of course. It seems a little shallow to admit that, but it's the truth. I'm not a fan of Contemporary YA and I'm especially not a fan of novels about teenagers partying and drinking - which is, admittedly, a lot of what this book is.

Yet, the narration throughout this story is superb. Sutter, the teen who has popularity, a car, a job, and a girlfriend. A really big heart. But also a drinking problem. An addiction. And reading his tale is a little like stepping into that mindset yourself. It captures the essence of the teenage years, but also the scary cliff that looms ahead when you're lost in your world. Sutter is so deeply dark with so many layers to just keep peeling. Aimee, the girl he intends to save, is just as screwed up in some ways and I love her unrelenting depths as well. All of these characters are written so starkly; realistic and raw in a manner that is difficult to describe. And this ending, though not the one I was clamoring for, did manage to grasp life in all its highs and lows. THE SPECTACULAR NOW is a spectacular slice of life itself, with all its messiness and flaws, complications and oddities, and though it's not my favorite book out there, I can't recommend it enough.
Profile Image for TL .
1,765 reviews35 followers
May 20, 2015
*Minor editing sorry*

There were moments I liked but overall I didn't care much for this book overall. The only people here I felt attached to were Amy and after awhile, Cassidy.

Sutter.. well,

He was alright in the beginning, grew on me some after awhile but then he just got annoying after awhile. I tried to give him a break but at a certain point I just stopped caring. I kept hoping he would turn himself around but mentally I broke away from him and was just waiting to see if he was going to do the right thing Amy.

The last few pages were what I expected really, but I was still disappointed.

Why did I keep reading? Not sure really... maybe because of Amy? Or I just wanted to see what would happen? *shrugs* It's not a terrible book but I found myself relieved when it was over.

Wouldn't mind a book about Amy though, see how she's getting on with her new life. Her character wasn't enough to redeem this for me though.
Profile Image for Aishu Rehman.
803 reviews717 followers
August 20, 2020
So I've been seeing the movie in stores and I was curious so I picked up the book...I must say that it was not the greatest book I've ever read but it wasn't the worst. So I would give this book 3.5 stars. At times this book just sort of dragged on and on. I get it that it's about high school kids trying to find their way in life but I don't know just something about this book rubbed me the wrong way. Decent enough I guess. Sutter was alright. I'm surprised he doesn't have liver cancer by how much that bro drinks. Aimee was probably the one redeeming quality about this book. I don't know definitely won't read this book again....but I guess it was worth reading once =\
Profile Image for Marcela M..
258 reviews
March 27, 2015
¿Y qué puedo decir?...
Sutter es un completo patético, y Aimee una idiota.
A pasar de que los personajes no me gustaron, para nada desde un principio, albergue esperanzas de que el libro fuera bueno al final. ¿Pero qué creen? Es un completo fiasco. Respeto y valoro las diferentes opiniones, pero, en serio, no logro entender como varias personas me recomendaron este libro con tanta emoción, y jurando que es una obra maestra.
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