Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"My Most Excellent Year" by Steve Kluger

Summary: T.C. and Augie have been best friends even since T.C.'s mother died when he was six.  In their 9th grade year, each boy finds his life changing as he falls in love for the first time and develops a friendship with a young deaf child--all while spouting show tunes, arguing about baseball, watching Mary Poppins, and referencing history.

Musings:  As I've mentioned before, Kluger's Last Days of Summer has been one of my students' summer reading books for quite a few years.  Although I wasn't crazy about the book at first, my students absolutely love it.  I was excited for the opportunity to meet Kluger, however, and pick up his newest book.

Like Last Days of Summer, My Most Excellent Year is written in epistolary form.  While the letters made sense given the time period of LDOS (early 20th century), the conceit doesn't work quite as well here.  Most of the story is told through diary entries the characters are supposedly keeping for English class.  Considering their content, I find that hard to buy.  But the structure does allow for T.C., Augie, and Ale (pronouned "Allie" and short for Alejandra, but I can't figure out in blogger how to do an accent mark on the e) to each present his/her own view.

I was surprised how similar the basic plot lines of LDOS and MMEY are: baseball, arguing about presidents' worthiness, the Japanese internment camp Manzanar, Asian best friend, boys and adult men who are clueless about girls, a mentoring relationship between an older and younger boy.  MMEY just felt like a modernized LDOS with the slightly older T.C. replacing the main character from LDOS, Joey.  But, I've come to accept that similarities, in themselves, are not really a criticism.  The story's being repeated, but that doesn't make it bad.

MMEY has a light and breezy tone with nary a conflict or hindrance in the characters' ways.  Some profuse cursing and the reality of World War I gave LDOS some grit, which MMEY lacks.  Nonetheless, the characters are endearing, and that's what carries the novel.

I especially loved Augie's developing relationship with Andy.  I think this is the first YA book I've read with a main gay character, and I'm so glad to see it.  Although Augie is stereotypically flamboyant (obsessed with old Broadway-- think Kurt in Glee), his burgeoning relationship with Andy is sweet and given just as much space as T.C. and Ale's relationship.

The book is written from a very innocent view of love and relationships (first kiss is enough to knock you off your feet for weeks), which I at first found a bit unbelievable, but I can still remember the time when the idea of a real kiss was terrifying and I was barely able to breathe while sitting next to a boy.  I was also surprised at the emotional effusiveness of the teenage boys (do 14-year-olds really sit around talking about being in love?), but then again, maybe I shouldn't be so cynical.

In the end, MMEY  is a sweet and funny, if not overly problem-free, look at teenage relationships.  It's not reality or real people, but the idealization doesn't make the book any less enjoyable.

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