My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park
by Steve Kluger
YA fiction. 403 pp.
TCKeller: What's "flap copy" anyway?
AugieHwong: It's what they put on a book jacket to tell you what's inside, you rock-head. We can use the one from Liza Minnelli's bio as a template.
TCKeller: Or not.
AlePerez: This is positively mortifying. They were just supposed to be classroom essays! I can't believe the entire world is about to find out how I played Anthony like a violin for five months.
TCKeller: I let you do that. Hey, why don't we open the flap with a quote about the 1918 Red Sox—
AugieHwong: No way, dude. If you're looking for a warm-up act, we open with Bette Davis in All About Eve.
AlePerez: Hello? Jacqueline Kennedy would be a far more appealing, not to mention intelligent, choice. Besides, I outrank both of you.
TCKeller: Oh,yeah? I have a Carlton Fisk rookie card.
AugieHwong: I have Angela Lansbury's autograph.
AlePerez: I have a Secret Service agent.
TCKeller: Guys! Why don't we just forget the flap copy and start at the very beginning?
AugieHwong: A very good place to start . . .
This was such an enjoyable book. Really. I found myself entertained throughout. The flap copy doesn't really tell you much about the plot. Part of that is because what really matters in this book is the characters. Fortunately, unlike the award-winning atrocity that is Criss Cross, this character-driven book has well-drawn characters who you can actually like. It also has wit and heart. As another blog I came across at one point (but can't find now) put it, this is a book about the family you're born with and the family you choose. T.C. and Tick are best friends. Actually, they're more than best friends; they're brothers. And they decided that when they were in first grade some time after T.C.'s mom died: ". . . that's when I knew for sure that I wouldn't be sad forever. Well, anybody who can pull off something like that for you isn't just a best friend—that's brother territory. So Augie told his mom and dad that they had a new son, and I told Pop the same thing. Screw biology."
Anyway, so the book employs various forms to narrate the story, including diary-assignment passages, memos, e-mails, IM logs, and what not. And there's just a lot of good stuff in here. Even when considering how improbable a lot of the book may seem, it still has an authenticity that makes it believable. That's also assuming you ignore the first and last few chapters where the characters reveal they're writing this memoir as a junior-year writing assignment about their freshman year yet the rest of the book is essentially written with present-tense knowledge instead of past-tense knowledge.
One of the criticisms that I've seen crop up is about the lack of drama with Augie's coming out:
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 AndyExcept, well, T.C.'s words:
I'm five weeks older than Augie is but he's a lot smarter than I am, except that he doesn't know he's gay yet. I don't see how he couldn't. I guess he figures that because he loves women like Audrey Hepburn and Judi Dench so much, he's automatically going to wind up with one. (Shh. What he really loves is their clothes.) But Augie is the best at everything he does and I'm betting that once he puts 2+2 together, he'll have a steady boyfriend before I even get this new girl Alejandra to think about kissing me. (22)Anyway. It's an enjoyable read with plenty of humor and good writing and not so much angst.
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