Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
The sequel to Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever takes its readers into the rehearsal room of a big-budget Broadway musical.
I'm willing to bet that a large percentage of the people reading this website right now have, at one point in their lives, dreamt of starring in a big flashy Broadway musical. Maybe you're one of them. It's OK: We're all friends here. You can admit it. Broadway dancer-turned-author Tim Federle (who once served as dance captain for Broadway's Billy Elliot: The Musical) indulges that fantasy in Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, his young adult novel about 13-year-old Nate Foster and his Broadway debut in E.T.: The Musical. It's an irresistible story, full of warmth and wit, and tailor-made for the adolescent show queen living in all of us.
Fix, Six, Seven, Nate! is the sequel to Federle's first novel in the series, Better Nate Than Ever, which followed Nate's runaway journey from Jankburg, Pennsylvania to audition for E.T. on Broadway. Nate got the part, albeit a smaller one than he was hoping for: He's the second understudy for E.T. The role he wanted (Elliott) went to his hometown archnemesis, Jordan Rylance, a child star in the making with shiny Vaseline teeth and a perfectly positioned cowlick.
Federle excelled in the last book at painting larger-than-life caricatures of the clipboard-wielding control freaks and British "visionaries" who people the commercial theater. He goes even further in this sequel, bringing us right into the heart of a big-budget film-to-stage musical adaptation and revealing that the show is being run by essentially the same kind of people from your high school drama club, but with lawyers and millions of dollars in investor capital.
There's Dewey, the genius video-game designer brought onto the production as director in an effort to secure a younger demographic. (He's in over his head from the first page.) Nate bonds with Asella, the sassy little-person actress and stage veteran serving as E.T.'s first understudy. The book even has a painfully familiar villain: Jordan's mother is a Manolo-wearing cameraman-bribing stage mom from hell.
Adding to the pressure, theater reporters all over town are sharpening their knives for what they anticipate to be the biggest train wreck since Spider-Man. And with a title like E.T.: The Musical, can you blame them? (N.B. It is apparently now required that all Broadway-related books make at least one reference to New York Post gossip columnist Michael Riedel.)
Amidst all the mess and drama there's Nate, our unceasingly enthusiastic and incredibly likable protagonist. He's just happy to be there, even if he doesn't know how to tap-dance. Many an adult theater enthusiast will find him embarrassingly relatable, like looking back at a middle-school yearbook photo and cringing with the recognition that this was you. "Miss Saigon is one of my favorite shows so I actually know quite a bit about the Far East," Nate earnestly shares before launching into a Skype discussion of "Eastern Medicine" with his best friend back in Pennsylvania, Libby. She taught him everything he knows about the stage, but now her mother is struggling with cancer. Their regular conversations are the perfect respite into the "real world," especially when Libby informs the still-officially-heterosexual Nate, in an ever-so-prodding way, that she is founding a Gay-Straight Alliance at their school.
Federle doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable or controversial, which is why his book passes the smell test of young adult literature: Nate is so funny because the people and situations feel real, even in their heightened state. Federle shows us Nate discovering himself and his adult life with a subtlety and sensitivity that denies none of the bombastic magic of Broadway. If you loved the first book, you'll love this one even more. And if you haven't yet discovered the Nate series, you really should. They're a must-read for theater kids of all ages.