By Tim Federle

Simon & Schuster, 2013

275 pages, $16.99

“Macaroni and cheese is still my favorite food—how would I know who I want to hook up with?” That’s Nate Foster, the 13-year-old protagonist of Tim Federle’s young readers novel, Better Nate Than Ever, responding to a bully who taunts him about his sexuality. Whether you use the book in class as a discussion starter, or share it with students at your studio, this is a must-read for all middle school–age performers.

The story follows Foster, who secretly takes a Greyhound bus from his small-town Pittsburgh suburb to New York City to audition for E.T.: The Musical. But it’s more than an adventure through Manhattan. The coming-of-age tale sheds light on real themes: bullying, sexuality, family and self-discovery, all from the hilarious and loveable perspective of a musical theater–obsessed teen.

Most compelling is the realism within the pages. From the New York City landmarks—like Ripley-Grier Studios and a walk between the Flatiron Building and SoHo—to the scene at a new musical open call, Federle gets it right. He’s a Broadway dancer and former coach of the Billy Elliot kids; his childhood mirrors his protagonist’s. (According to Federle’s biography on his website: “1987: Tim develops interest in the musical Cats; 1988: Bullies develop interest in Tim.”) Federle’s sharp wit successfully captures the voice of a precocious, but unsure young teen, while appealing to adult readers as well. You won’t be able to put it down.