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

In the 11th grade, friends TC, Augie and Alejandra are in Ms. LaFontaine’s English class when they are assigned to do a project detailing their “Most Excellent Year”.  Each one of them decides on the 9th grade as being the best year of their young lives and  the reader watches the best year of their lives unfold in a series of class assignments, diary entries, instant messages, e-mail to and from each other, letters and e-mail between them and their parents, and their parents’ correspondence with each other. We wonder if TC will ever drop his wiseguy act long enough to get the girl, if Augie’s relationship will workout and whether Alejandra will ever have the courage to face her diplomat parents to tell them that it is her dream to sing and dance.

More than anything else this book is about magical people and experiences which shape your life in an ordinary way.  Anyone can bestow the gifts of unconditional love, kindness and support which the characters in this book showed one another. Parents suspect that their children are gay and not only are they not worried about it, but they seem to wlecome it.    The friendship of one little boy saves another at a crucial moment when he is struggling to handle the grief of his mother’s death.  When they decide to become brothers, they accomplish it with with the full approval of both sets of parents- to the point where each boy has a bed and drawer space in his room for the other.  The three friends work together to help each other out, and they understand each other to know enough about what is needed at any particular time.

I really enjoyed getting to know these characters and seeing how they developed over the year.  I loved the way their perceptions of each other helped to add a deeper layer to each of the characters.  From Alejandra we can see the picture of what TC must have looked like as the coolest by in school- and she sees him as someone who know that he is cool and revels in it, Augie can add in that everyone always followed the things that TC did and how that subtly changed when TC’s mother died and the kids didn’t know how to handle it, and TC himself is just bewildered that the kids are copying him and thinks they do it to make fun of him (his feeling are hurt).  I loved the way the parents interacted with each other, and I liked the flirtation between TC’s father and his guidance counselor.  I loved seeing how compassionate TC is while befriending Hucky, a young deaf child he meets while playing baseball; how Augie is totally great at everything he does and how he is comfortable with himself after he figures out that he likes boys; and I love the smart and spunky Alejandra.  She has opinions that she is not afraid to express and is confident in her knowledge and smarts.

My only complaint about My Most Excellent Year is the thing that I loved the most- the shininess and the happiness. It was a bit like seeing favorite characters in situations where it is a foregone conclusion that everything will be okay and not enough of a challenge to make you sweat. These kids don’t really face any of the conflicts that would probably provide more conflict which is represented here. With Mary Poppins involved that may well have been the intention, but since there weren’t that many real obstacles the book lacked a sense of urgency or suspense that made it start to feel a bit long and it held my attention less as it went along. However, I still think it’s a worthwhile and entertaining read. There are characters here whom you will enjoy and love getting to know.

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