My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park -- Steve Kluger

Juniors T. C. Keller, Augie Hwong and Alejandra Perez's English assignment is to write an essay entitled My Most Excellent Year*.  The book is comprised of those essays, of diary entries, transcripts of their IM sessions, letters, notes between their parents, student advisers and others, emails and other related documents.  It's split into alternating chapters, so we get the story from all three perspectives.


But even though Augie and I had never talked to each other before, he was the only one who knew what to say and how to say it.  (Everybody else thought they could get away with blowing smoke up my ass about Guardian Angels and Eternal Paradise, like my mother had gone on a Princess Cruise.) ... 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.


My father and I are both ABCs (American-born Chinese), but that's where the resemblance ends.  He once played Bruce Lee in a college production of Dragon, and I once played Ethel Merman in a living room musicale for Grandma Lily.


Naturally there were bound to be a few conflicts with Papa, Mamita, and Forever Flawless Carlos.  The family business depended on tact and diplomacy, and meanwhile they were raising a ten-year-old activist who could find a social issue in a box of Kleenex.  After I'd told the Korean ambassador that I had little use for either half of military Korea but at least the south knew how to say "May I?" before they shot you, I was persona non grata all along Embassy Row.

Among other things, over the course of their ninth grade year: T.C. falls in love and meets a six-year-old boy who can predict (with perfect accuracy) which balls T.C. should swing at, Augie falls in love, figures something out about himself that everyone else (his parents, T.C., his friends) have known pretty much forever, and Alé (surprise!) falls in love and comes to terms with the fact that her vision of her future doesn't at all resemble her parents' vision of her future.

Fans of Last Days of Summer will recognize a lot of subjects and themes:  family (not just the families we are born into, but the families we choose and the families we create), baseball, musical theater, Japanese internment camps, friendship, politics and true love.  I do think My Most Excellent Year could have been a bit tighter and for me, it didn't quite reach the same heights as Last Days of Summer.  But it had me grinning most of the way through, occasionally made me guffaw and yes, got me a little bit teary here and there.  The word 'heartwarming' generally makes me want to barf, but in this case, it's very definitely accurate.  It's a most excellent romantic comedy, and will be a totally enjoyable springtime read.

Oh, a note:  I loved it that Augie's coming out was never an issue.  That angle of the book made it fall into avengingsybil's "Gay = Yay!" genre.  Which is such a nice thing -- I'm always glad to find more books to put onto that list.

*Actually, the assignment originally was to write an essay entitled "My Totally Excellent Year", but as T. C. says, that "would have been like so 1995", so they changed it.