Book: My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park
Author: Steve Kluger (The backdrop on his home page is a picture of Fenway Park at Sunset, and his tag-line reads "Author, Red Sox Fan, Uncle")
Age Range: 12 and up
My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger, is a young adult novel that alternates between the viewpoints of three high school friends who are looking back on their pivotal ninth grade year. Each person's story is told through a mix of journal entries, letters, IM sessions, emails, and transcripts of conversations. The narrators include Tony Conigliaro (T.C.) Keller, cool kid and latest of a long line of Red Sox fans, his best friend/declared brother Augie Hwong, a flamboyant drama fanatic, and new girl Alejandra (Alé) Perez, the daughter of the recently retired Ambassador to Mexico. The letters and emails also give us occasional glimpses into the viewpoints of T.C.'s father, Augie's parents, the school guidance counselor, Augie's crush Andy Wexler, and Alé's former secret service agent/mentor. The story is a web of plots, mostly about love and relationships (romantic and family), with baseball trivia, drama club activities, and political causes thrown in.
My favorite thing about this book (ok, besides all of the Red Sox references) was the way Augie and T.C.'s families basically became blended together as an extended, unconventional family, when the two boys bonded at age six (after T.C.'s mother's death). They have beds and desks in each other's houses, and both call the parents Pop, Mom, and Dad. Their fathers compare notes about them, and watch games together. The family eventually opens its collective arms to welcome Hucky (a six-year-old deaf orphan befriended by T.C.) into the virtual family unit.
I will admit to finding the T.C. / Hucky storyline a tad improbable. Would a busy 15-year-old boy really decide to mentor a hard-to-reach six-year-old, becoming dedicated enough to learn sign language? That question aside, I think that the author did a nice job portraying the relationship between the two boys. T.C. comes across more like an uncle than a big brother. The author apparently has plenty of real-world experience as an uncle (the book is dedicated to his nephews and nieces), and his voice rings true. Hucky is an enjoyable character, too, molded in some ways by his deafness, but also stubborn and creative and possessing a sense of humor.
I must further confess that although I consider Augie a delightful character, I found one aspect of his coming out a bit implausible. Everyone around him greets his being gay with complete acceptance. This is very nice to see, but really? No one from school gives him a hard time? There's no weirdness from the male best friend with whom he regularly shares a room? Still, I do love the way Augie is open about his feelings, and notices everything about Andy, from:
"His hair curling out from under his wool cap"; to
"His eyes finding me and smiling before his mouth even does."
I was also charmed by T.C.'s journal entries to his dead mother. He says things like:
"Even though I'm almost 15, I'm getting tall fast. You probably wouldn't even recognize me anymore. But I still remember what your voice sounds like."; and
"I hit my first home run of the fall today, and I'm pretty sure you had something to do with it."
He shares the magic with which his mother nurtured him to help with Hucky. It's adorable.
The Boston details are dead on in this book. There's the "virus" by which everyone obsesses about the Red Sox, and yet also becomes cynical. T.C.'s accent is perfect. The boys ponder of "Why Route 128 is also I-95 South and I-93 North." The kids even eat at my favorite Boston pizza place, Pizzeria Regina.
As you might guess from the subtitle, My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park has a little something for everyone. If you are a Red Sox fan, Patriots fan, musical fan in general, Julie Andrews fan in particular, social activist, budding politician, budding thespian, person just figuring out that you're gay, friend of a person just figuring out that he or she is gay, or hard of hearing, this book has something for for you. And if you are a fan of romance, or you are the kind of person whose heartstrings are likely to be pulled by a 15-year-old boy who misses his long-dead mother, or a six-year-old deaf orphan with a chip on his shoulder and a Mary Poppins obsession, then you'll want to grab this one as soon as it becomes available (in March). As for me, I think it's one I'll read again. And I can offer no higher praise than that.
Publisher: Dial (Penguin)
Publication Date: March 13, 2008
Source of Book: Advance Proof from the publisher, at NCTE conference. Any quotations are made based on this uncorrected text, and may not reflect the final book.
Author Interview: Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature
See also: Augie's Website, Tick's Website, and Tick and Alé's Website (Tick is what Augie calls T.C.). I've also heard that Kirkus gave this book a starred review, but I don't have a link for that.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.