When your brother is an athletic phenom, renowned for his track and football prowess, it’s difficult to make your mark. The shadow he casts, even if he is as insecure as you are, proves too powerful to resist.
Until one day, when you just can’t take it any more.
Such is the situation for Andrew Reinstein, whose brother, Felton, is all kinds of special. Andrew is tired of being nothing special, so he grabs his drumsticks and heads south from his home in Wisconsin to visit his grandfather, with whom he does not share much of a relationship. Felton, meanwhile, must go “rescue” his brother, largely because it’s his fault that Andrew ran away. See, Felton is, as he acknowledges, a “jackassed narcissist,” so full of his own feats and successes that he continually skips Andrew’s concerts. He takes Andrew’s talents so lightly that he advises his brother to forego his musical talents and become a pharmacist. As his mother, Jerri, asks, “Is there no space between your brain and your mouth?” In a humorous retort, Felton says that there is a “big space” when “I’m supposed to talk.”
Told entirely from Felton’s point of view and written as journal entries from Felton to his estranged girlfriend, Aleah, Nothing Special, by Geoff Herbach, is a sequel to Stupid Fast, but you do not need to read the predecessor in order to appreciate Nothing Special. I haven’t read Stupid Fast, and I didn’t think Nothing Special was difficult to understand.
This is a witty, fun read that teenagers will enjoy. Felton is occasionally unlikeable. It isn’t a stretch to see why Aleah chose to spend the summer in Germany, nor is it difficult to understand why Felton’s best friend, Gus, gets aggravated with him. And it certainly doesn’t take a stretch to see how Andrew gets fed up with the whole thing and just runs away.
The first half of the book details Felton’s mad cap trip from Wisconsin to Florida, a journey fraught with all manner of obstacles and challenges. The second half focuses on Felton’s attempt to rehabilitate his relationship with Andrew while trying to forge one with a grandfather he barely knows, largely because Grandpa distanced himself from his grandsons after their father’s death. Meanwhile, Felton’s coaches are no amused. He is missing workouts and competitions, which can lead to lost scholarships.
Nothing Special is a road trip, a buddy story, a family story and a mournful comedy. There is much that is bittersweet here, with an emphasis on “sweet.” But it is an approachable sweetness. We see how much Felton wants to mend things with his brother, even as Andrew accuses him of being a “big, fat, stupid jerk all the time!” who “ran away without me. Left me to the dogs.” Andrew’s pain and frustration at being “nothing special,” compared to his brother, is palpable. And Felton’s slow realization of his brother’s feelings is as realistic a portrayal of teenaged, well, “jackassed narcissism” as you’ll find. When Felton writes to Aleah, “I’m a really terrible person and Andrew has finally figured it out,” we know he isn’t really terrible. He’s just a kid who’s been told his whole life that he is special. Andrew, on the other hand, has not.
Teenagers, especially boys, will enjoy this book a great deal. Herbach’s writing style is so much fun, and you will find yourself alternately laughing out loud, cringing, and maybe even shedding a small tear for Felton, as he comes to terms with forsaking what makes him special.