It’s no secret that middle school is one of the most difficult periods of a person’s life. Kids are just entering their teen years and don’t have a crystalized identity. Cliques form, excluding anyone who doesn’t fit the status quo. Matters become even worse when parents aren’t supportive.
Author Tim Federle touches on all of these things with his book, “Better Nate Than Ever”. Since its release in 2013, the novel has inspired many teens to explore their identities and not let others discourage them. “Better Nate Than Ever” has been such a monumental force that it’s now making its way to Disney+ as a comedy musical.
Just like how the average day in middle school encompasses serious emotions and lighthearted escapades back to back, so does “Better Nate Than Ever”. The book’s protagonist, Nate, exhibits awkward growing pains throughout the story. His issues make for some sad moments, especially in the beginning, but provide comic relief at other times.
Nate has trouble fitting in with his family and peers. Most of the people around him prioritize sports and tradition while he’s more interested in artistic pursuits. Nate’s parents want him to be a star athlete like his older brother, and they try to naysay his interest in theatre. Nate’s classmates don’t approve of the way he presents himself, calling him hateful names and making him feel out of place.
The one person who has Nate’s back is Libby, his best friend. Libby is also interested in playacting and respects Nate’s uniqueness. The two come up with a plan to leave their small Pennsylvania town and head to Manhattan, where Nate can audition for “E.T.: The Musical”. This plan puts the pair on a goofy but extravagant adventure where they learn there is more to the world than mundane living.
“Better Nate Than Ever” ends with a positive message, but it also explores some darker themes that families can learn from. Nate is a well-behaved kid, but his ostracization eventually leads him to steal his parents’ money and his brother’s fake ID before running away from home. This incident is a warning of what can happen when parents and older siblings don’t support a young teenager in his or her self-discovery. Despite his regrets, Nate remembers how important it is to find a place that can finally accept him. This wouldn’t have been needed if more people helped him out at home.
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