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What Teens Can Learn From “Better Nate Than Ever”

Since it was published in 2013, “Better Nate Than Ever” has been a captivating force in teen literature. In this novel, Nate Foster is in the eighth grade and feels dismayed about his limitations in the midwest. Nate longs to leave the nest and explore New York City, where he hopes to get involved in the Broadway scene. As Nate comes across different challenges, he realizes that he has to pay a price in order to fulfill his ambitions.

This groundbreaking novel by Tim Federle is set to become a musical on Disney+, where more onlookers will learn about Nate’s journey. With this in mind, it helps to break down some of the themes of the story and what they mean for teenagers.

Feeling Out of Place

Feeling like a social outcast is common for many eighth-graders, but Nate is even a misfit in his own family. Nate’s brother gets all the praise and attention due to his athletic achievements. On top of this, Nate lives in a religious, conservative household that naysays anything out of the ordinary.


“Better Nate Than Ever” shows how being a misfit can influence teen behavior. Nate feels powerless in his small town, so he winds up stealing his mother’s ATM card and his brother’s counterfeit ID so he can sneak off to New York City. As the novel unfolds, Nate feels some guilt about what he did, but he keeps going. While Nate’s actions can be considered unethical, one can argue that he wouldn’t have put his family through such turmoil if they valued him for who he was.

Self Esteem

Another message from “Better Nate Than Ever” is how social isolation influences the way teens view themselves. Because Nate is constantly made fun of and shunned for being different, his self-esteem suffers as a result. Nate must make up for this lack of self-worth by achieving something that goes beyond his family’s comprehension: Starring in “E.T.: The Musical” on Broadway.

While Nate is not content with his hometown or family life from the beginning, his home base is still his comfort zone. Many teens are afraid to leave their familiar surroundings, and Nate feels some trepidation too at first. But with his strong desire to succeed, Nate makes the best out of New York City and learns things he couldn’t even dream of in Pennsylvania. This shows that the right amount of courage pays off in the end.

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