Self-discovery is important for people throughout their lives, but its ramifications might be at their sharpest during middle school. During this period, kids are still trying to figure out their place among others. Childhood feels like it’s coming to an end, but the freedom of adulthood is far away.
Author Tim Federle does a great job at exploring these ideas in his book, “Better Nate Than Ever”. The novel took teen literature by storm in 2013, and will now resurface as a musical comedy with Disney+. The story unpacks ideas that can help adults and kids alike.
Nate is an awkward young teen who dreams of acting on Broadway. While there are many kids in the real world who can relate to Nate, not many people in Nate’s hometown appreciate him or his aspirations. Nate finds his town to be boring and restrictive, and most of the people around him are closed-minded.
For one, Nate deals with horrible bullying at his school on a daily basis. Other kids find him to be odd and flamboyant, constantly calling him derogatory slurs. When Nate goes home, his parents downplay his desire to explore theatre and try to push sports on him. Nate’s older brother is the favorite in the household, getting all the praise and adoration.
The one person Nate can confide in is Libby, his best friend. Libby acts slightly older than her age, which enables her to be both a friend and a mentor to Nate. The two feel that they have no place in their hometown, so they decide to leave for New York City.
The bulk of “Better Nate Than Ever” consists of Nate and Libby’s adventure to Manhattan. They come across many obstacles along the way, which makes for some fun and humorous moments. Nate learns that some of the traits that got him ostracized in his town are more accepted in other areas, especially once he makes it to New York City.
Ultimately, Nate’s plan is to audition for Broadway. He’s forced to overcome his insecurities and believe in himself, which people at home always discouraged. With his mental fortitude, Nate proves himself and finds new opportunities.
“Better Nate Than Ever” comes with several lessons. It shows kids that if they ever feel out of place, there may be unexplored avenues that work better for them. The book also teaches parents that they should hear their kids out instead of projecting their own goals and values onto them.