Better Nate Than Ever Summary

Tim Federle

Better Nate Than Ever

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Better Nate Than Ever Summary

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Better Nate Than Ever (2013) by American writer Tim Federle is a grade-level novel about a young teenager who leaves home for Broadway. The story is based on Federle’s own experience dropping out of high school for Broadway. It was inspired by his time casting the lead role for Billy Elliot and auditioning over 1,400 children. Federle has said that he wrote Better Nate Than Ever to encourage middle schoolers to discover and embrace qualities that make them distinct. It became a national bestseller, won several literary awards, and was considered a best book of the year for young readers by The New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

Its themes include courage, friendship, forgiveness, and self-acceptance. Better Nate Than Ever also takes on issues of bullying, sexuality, and drugs.

The first-person story opens with thirteen-year-old Nate Foster saying he’s too busy to offer a backstory, then giving the reader his backstory. At four-feet eight-inches and a bit pudgy, Nate is small for his size; in appearance, temperament, and interest, he has never fit in with the rest of the boys around Jankburg, Pennsylvania.

While he’s expected to like cars and play baseball, Nate much prefers singing. He’s nothing like his athletic, religious brother, Anthony, who happens to be a town favorite. Noting his difference, other boys don’t hesitate to call Nate derogatory names, and nicknames like “Natey the Lady.” Making matters worse, sometimes his own brother ridicules him. When several bullies punch him so severally that they brake his lip and he has to go to the hospital for stitches, the school administrators don’t try to find the boys who hit him.

It turns out, Nate really is busy: he’s running away to New York overnight to try out for E.T: The Musical in the morning. After some issues buying a Greyhound bus ticket (you’re supposed to be fifteen or older; Nate uses Anthony’s fake ID), he makes his way to New York. He talks about his kind, but ineffective mother (who owns Flora’s Floras), and his also kind but unbright and strictly Christian father, who works as a janitor.

During his escape, he’s assisted by his good pal, Libby. She’s also obsessed with Broadway. She’s the one who found about the auditions for E.T online, and she’s sure that Nate would play the lead role perfectly. Nate has a soprano voice and is actually quite good. He knows everything there is to know about musicals and hopes to one day become a Broadway star.

Together, they formulate a strategy that will allow Nate to visit New York and come back to Pennsylvania without anyone becoming worried about his disappearance. The strategy is not so good: it involves “borrowing” his mother’s ATM card to buy a one-way ticket back to Jankburg and using his brother’s old cell phone to stay in touch with Libby.

Nate loves New York. Compared to his hometown, it’s very diverse and people are less strict about following community norms. This is the first time ever he has felt a great rush of independence. He doesn’t focus on the fact that he has never auditioned before, and should be nervous.

Landing an audition is much harder than he thought it would be. Most of the other child actors have parents who can represent them and demand that their child is seen next—even if it means conniving against Nate.

This complicates the plan he and Libby established, and she scrambles to tell adults plausible lies to explain Nate’s absence. However, as she’s doing that, Nate’s cell phone dies. Fortunately, there are so many great things about New York that he’s more than distracted: $1 pizza, enormous Applesbees, shops for cookies and cupcakes at every corner. As is his fashion, whenever Nate feels like cursing, he uses the title of a Broadway show that absolutely flopped: Moose Murders, Carrie, Dance of the Vampires, etc.

Along with a giant group of other boys (the “cattle call”) Nate auditions. He thinks the observers were impressed, but he can’t be sure.

That night, he’s walking down the street when he notices the curious sight of an adult on a motorized scooter. The adult stops in front of a door with a bodyguard out front and presents his ID. He’s let in, and as the door opens, Nate glimpses that it’s a gay club. He notices all the boys, a good eight to ten years older than himself, dancing to music; they seem to be people who like the Phantom of the Opera. He sees two of them kiss, and is amazed that no one tries to stop them.

He meets his mother’s sister, Heidi, who has been estranged by the family. She inspires him to keep living his dream, and possibly return to New York.

Receiving an alert that her ATM card has been used in New York, Nate’s mother comes to New York. His family, though not entirely comprehending, loves Nate for his daring dash to New York.

Beating all the odds, Nate is given the title role in E.T: The Musical. Federle writes about Nate’s time on Broadway in the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!