Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Nothing Special

Geoff Herbach
Sourcebooks Fire
Felton Reinstein is the top football recruit in the state and it's making him a nervous wreck, which isn't helped much when his younger brother, Andrew, runs away to a suspicious-sounding orchestra camp. In this sequel to Stupid Fast, Felton is still dealing with his crazy family and his own personal flaws -- most notably his self-centered nature that he tries to fight against. But this time around it's Andrew who's in trouble and Felton, the mostly-negligent older brother, who goes after him.

I wish I'd reviewed Stupid Fast back when I read it, but in the midst of all my Cybils reading it (and many other books) slipped through the cracks. Suffice to say it's a brilliant and hilarious book that worked perfectly well as a stand-alone. Still, Herbach managed to give us a sequel that continues addressing many of the topics present in the first book while also being markedly different and - just like Stupid Fast - this one works fine by itself. Felton and his girlfriend are "on a break" and the book is written as one long letter to her, a sort of explanation of his stupidity and all that's been happening in his family what with Andrew going to an orchestra camp that Felton suspects might not exist.

I understand why the summaries for these books fall so completely short of explaining the plot. It's because Nothing Special is all but impossible to really explain. There's a high school football star who becomes a nervous wreck at the thought of college recruiters and is increasingly focused on only himself (Felton); a younger brother who plays piano, has been acting strangely, and may have invented an orchestra camp; and a crazy, estranged family. The story is written as a letter after-the-fact and because of this there are two different timelines going, which makes understanding the true timeline of the events in the book a little difficult for a while. Still, Felton's voice is spot-on for the story and his character: it's a strangely great mix of naive, funny, and absolutely honest even (or especially) about all the ways he's screwed up. Part of the reason I love Nothing Special (and Stupid Fast, which I also highly recommend) so much is because at the center of the story is the theme of family, genetics, and the effect these things have on the sort of people we become. Felton struggles with the similarities he shares with his dad, who committed suicide when Felton was only five, and his brother Andrew attempts to find out where he fits in the family and what bearing his family history has on him. This is always a fascinating topic to me and it's handled so incredibly well in Nothing Special. This book blends humor with honest questions and realizations about family and life in an almost seamless way. And while I think I enjoyed Stupid Fast more than Nothing Special, this book felt more emotionally powerful to me.

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