Book Review: Tremendous Things by Susin Nielsen

Title: Tremendous Things

Author: Susin Nielsen

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 272

Rating: A-

Recommended?: Yes


The main character in this book (Wilbur,) a sweet but hopelessly awkward nerd, reminded me of Stewart from We Are All Made of Molecules– it didn’t surprise me that there was a crossover and they turned out to be friends. Wilbur’s real name was William but he changed it because of being a Charlotte’s Web superfan. He was raised by loving lesbian mothers and homeschooled for most of his life.

After going to public school for the first time, a humiliating incident involving a personal letter written for a time capsule immediately makes a pariah and target for bullies. Wilbur is a sensitive and not-so-attractive boy whose looks are compared to Marty Feldman and Jon Heder. He writes poetry and his best friend is a man in his 80’s named Sal.

Wilbur falls for a French exchange student (serendipitously named Charlotte) but she doesn’t feel the same way about him. His gay friend Alex and Alex’s boyfriend Fabrizio try to help him reinvent himself and become more self-confident, with mixed results. So, this story was pretty predictable but I still really enjoyed it’s charming and offbeat coming-of-age narrative.

Wilbur is an endearing and very sympathetic protagonist, and his moms are awesome. All the characters (including the minor ones) felt very real. I hated how mean almost everyone was to Wilbur, even (to some extent) the friend who was Queer Eye-ing him. It felt like by throwing out his clothes and telling him how to dress and act he was trying to take away a big part of what made Wilbur Wilbur. He and his boyfriend weren’t exactly tactful either.

I liked how the moms did a great job of teaching Wilbur to be respectful of women. They were pretty weird at times but they were great parents and I also really liked how the Tremendous Things didn’t demonize homeschooling like a lot of books do. Wilbur was sheltered for sure but he was also bright and raised to be considerate and kind. Overall, this was a good character-driven book with a bittersweet combination of happiness and sadness. You will be rooting for Wilbur throughout his adolescent misadventures and charmed by this big-hearted narrative.

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