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About The Book

Soon to be a Disney+ Original movie!

“The Nate series by Tim Federle is a wonderful evocation of what it’s like to be a theater kid. Highly recommended.” —Lin-Manuel Miranda, star and creator of the musical, Hamilton

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Slate Favorite Book of the Year

A small-town boy hops a bus to New York City to crash an audition for E.T.: The Musical in this winning middle grade novel that The New York Times called “inspired and inspiring.”

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

Tim Federle’s “hilarious and heartwarming debut novel” (Publishers Weekly) is full of broken curfews, second chances, and the adventure of growing up—because sometimes you have to get four hundred miles from your backyard to finally feel at home.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide for

Better Nate Than Ever
by Tim Federle


About the Book

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster doesn’t fit in at his Jankburg, Pennsylvania middle school. Instead of being athletic and community-minded like his town-favorite big brother, Anthony, short, chubby Nate is a belting boy soprano who dreams of starring in a Broadway show. With the help of his best friend, Libby, he embarks on a definitely-not-parent-approved journey to New York City to audition for a musical version of the famous movie, E.T. Nate soon learns that getting to the audition is only the beginning of an adventure on which he discovers the true meaning of family, friendship, acceptance, and, most important, how to be his own best self.

Discussion Questions

1. As the novel begins, readers meet Nate and Libby in the Fosters’ backyard. After reading this first chapter, list at least three worries Nate has about his upcoming adventure to New York. Also, list at least three concerns Nate has about how life is going in Jankburg.

2. Nate and Libby use a kind of shorthand in their conversations by referring to Broadway shows and song lyrics. Can you think of any shared experiences that you and your friends or family use to communicate in a special way? Explain your answer.

3. Throughout his stay in New York City, Nate finds himself delighted by the diversity and open-mindedness of its citizens. Give at least four specific examples of this delight that makes Nate love the city more and more. List at least two moments in the novel where Nate realizes New York is not entirely a paradise.

4. In Jankburg, Nate endures a lot of taunting, including being called “Natey the Lady,” and he is assumed to be gay. What is Nate’s attitude toward this treatment? Do you think he handles the situation well? Why or why not?

5. Nate makes observations about clothing and colors throughout the novel, from the “grey” of Greyhound Bus stations to the festive coat he “borrows” later on. How do Nate’s comments on color and style affect your understanding of his character? How would you describe yourself in terms of your favorite (and least favorite) colors, your fashion choices, and the way you use these lenses to make sense of your world?

6. Who is Jordan Rylance? Would you call him Nate’s enemy? Why or why not? What important things about Nate do you learn from his scenes discussing Jordan?

7. The type of large-group audition Nate attends is sometimes called a “cattle call.” The preliminary audition rounds of shows like American Idol, as well as the setting of the Broadway classic (and movie) A Chorus Line are cattle call auditions. Compare and contrast the way Nate is treated (and the way he feels about it) at the New York cattle call versus the way he is treated in Jankburg.

8. Who is Aunt Heidi? What does Nate almost instantly like about her? In what ways is Nate worried or confused by Heidi’s words and behavior? Why isn’t Aunt Heidi very positive about Nate’s ambition?

9. Nate causes a lot of trouble by going “missing” from home in Pennsylvania. How does Libby help to cover for him?

10. What happens when Nate’s mom arrives in New York? How do she and Aunt Heidi resolve their differences? Do you think Nate will now be able to better help his mom overcome her drinking problem? Explain your answer.

11. Who is James Madison? What does he represent in the story? How does Libby describe to Nate the comeuppance James receives near the novel’s end? Why might this be important to Nate? How does he show compassion for James even from New York?

12. Deep down, what do you think is Nate’s greatest dream? Do you see any similarities between Nate’s aspirations and your own? Explain your answer.

13. Is it important that Nate is still in New York at the end of the story? What do you hope will happen next? Do you think Nate will be okay even if his dream doesn’t come true? Why or why not?



Guide written in 2013 by Stasia Ward Kehoe. Stasia holds a BA in English from Georgetown University and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University/Tisch School of the Arts. She has taught dance and writing classes to elementary through high school students on both the east and west coasts. Her novels are published by Viking/Penguin. She lives in western Washington.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photograph (c) 2018 by Justin Patterson

Tim Federle is the showrunner and executive producer of High School Musical: the Musical: the Series, which he created for Disney+. His novels include the New York Times Notable Book Better Nate Than Ever and its Lambda Literature Award–winning sequel—which Lin-Manuel Miranda called “a wonderful evocation of what it’s like to be a theater kid” (New York Times). A film adaptation of Nate, written and directed by Federle, will premiere on Disney+ in spring 2022. The film stars Aria Brooks, Joshua Bassett, Lisa Kudrow, and Rueby Wood as Nate. Tim’s hit series of cocktail recipe books, including Tequila Mockingbird, have sold over half a million copies worldwide. He cowrote the Broadway musical adaptation of Tuck Everlastingand won the Humanitas Prize for cowriting the Golden Globe and Academy Award–nominated Best Animated Feature Ferdinand, starring John Cena and Kate McKinnon. A former Broadway dancer, Tim was born in San Francisco, grew up in Pittsburgh, and now divides his time between Los Angeles and the internet.

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

"Critics are raving about Nate."

– CNN

"The book I needed--and would have adored--when I was a kid. Federle writes from the heart and hits you in the gut--not to mention your funny bone."

– Jesse Tyler Ferguson, star of Modern Family

"A smash hit! If there were a Tony Award for books, it would go to Better Nate Than Ever."

– Alan Menken, Tony and Oscar-winning composer of Newsies and Beauty and the Beast

“No one captures Broadway or the kids who want to be part of it with the humor, insight and heart of Tim Federle. This hysterical and heartwarming story is for everyone who dreams of going out there a middle-schooler and coming back a star.”

– Thomas Schumacher, Tony Award–winning producer of The Lion King

"I can’t stop reading this book! Nate Foster’s hilarious and touching adventures en route to making it big on Broadway just kill me—I’m falling in love with New York City all over again, and with Nate for the first time. Please, Tim Federle, take a break before writing your next book, so I'll have time to write mine. I can only hope it's half as much fun as Better Nate Than Ever!"

– James Howe, author of The Misfits

"The funny, awkward, vulnerable Nate is an insightful and entertaining narrator for this adventurous tale about an ugly duckling learning to experience and embrace his inner swan."

– The New York Times Book Review

“[A] charming debut by a rising theater star.”

– Entertainment Weekly

"Hilarious and heartwarming...this book soars."

– Publishers Weekly, starred review

"From his obsession with the first franchise restaurant he sees in New York to his infectious enthusiasm for city-life, Nate is the quintessential starry-eyed small-town boy in the Big Apple...Between the hijinks and the humor, however, Nate reveals himself to be a kid who accepts that he is a disappointment to his conventional family and yet still remains solidly himself, optimistically certain that there is a place for guys like him somewhere in the world. There’s plenty of substance to go along with the razzle-dazzle here, so sit back and enjoy the show."

– BCCB, Recommended

"A story of Broadway dreams tailor-made for the younger side of the Glee audience...Nate is a quirky and endearing leading man from the start, and anyone who has ever felt out of place will easily identify with him. It’s a joy to watch him fall head over heels for a city that couldn’t care less about him—in the best possible way...Federle’s debut addresses—deftly—big and solemn issues in the second half of the novel, particularly with regard to family, sexuality and religion. Bravo, Nate!"

– Kirkus Reviews

"Funny and insightful...This talented first-time author has made the classic Chorus Line theme modern and bright for the Glee generation."

– Booklist

"Explores weighty issues such as sibling rivalry, bullying, religious parents, and gay or questioning teens with a remarkably lighthearted and humorous touch totally appropriate for young audiences."

– School Library Journal

"Filled with adventure, suspense, plenty of humor, and incredibly unique characters, Better Nate than Ever will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever decided to stop waiting, and make their own dreams come true."

– Bookpage

“[A] twinkling adventure tale for the musical theater set.”

– New York Times

“Judy Blume as seen through a Stephen Sondheim lens -- with a dash of Lewis Carroll whimsy. As long as Federle wants to tell stories, a new generation of Broadway-loving theater fans has a voice in young adult literature.”

– Huffington Post

“[A] little book with big star quality.”

– Shelf Awareness

“The Nate series by Tim Federle is a wonderful evocation of what it’s like to be a theater kid. Highly recommended.”

– Lin-Manuel Miranda, star and creator of the musical, Hamilton

Awards and Honors

  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Maud Hart Lovelace Award Nominee (MN)
  • Lambda Literary Award Finalist
  • NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
  • Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee (NJ)
  • Nutmeg Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • Capital Choices Noteworthy Books for Children's and Teens (DC)
  • Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award Master List (IL)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (VT)
  • The Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration
  • ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults - Top Ten
  • Arkansas Teen Book Award Reading List
  • ALA Notable Children's Recording
  • ALA Rainbow List Top Ten
  • ALA Stonewall Honor Book
  • Odyssey Honor for Audio
  • MSTA Reading Circle List

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: Tim Federle

More books in this series: Nate