About ten years ago I had the good fortune to read THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER by Steve Kluger. It’s a truly wonderful novel about a young, fatherless boy in pre-World War II Brooklyn. Lonely and afraid of growing up Joey Margolis begins writing letters to Charlie Banks, the sensational rookie third baseman for the New York Giants. Over time, the two develop one of the most unlikely friendships you will ever find in literature. It’s a book that leaves you laughing, crying and full of wonder and it quickly has become a favorite of both myself and my family.
So I was pleased to pick up a copy of Steve’s newest young adult novel MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park. I’ll admit that I approached the book with a bit of trepidation. I don’t know if you’re like me, but there are books I love so much that when an author hits one out of the park, like Steve did with THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER, there’s a small part of me that’s afraid that their next book won’t measure up. After all, I happen to know a little bit about what it takes to write a book and it’s certainly not easy and LAST DAYS OF SUMMER was so perfect that you’d think a fall off would be inevitable.
I’m happy to say that in the case of MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR you’d be wrong.
While it’s clearly different than THE LAST DAYS OF SUMMER and also certainly written for young adults, it’s still a masterpiece. It has all the trademark elements of a Steve Kluger novel. The humor, the unvarnished love of the small things in life and a group of adolescents who are going through the sometimes far too painful process of finding out who and what they are. The characters are wonderfully drawn. T.C. is the motherless boy who falls desperately in love with Alejandra one of the most delightful tough chicks you’ll ever meet in YA fiction. If you don’t enjoy the dance these two undertake to try and avoid falling head over heels for each other, then I can only say that the Grinch must have left coal in your stocking at Christmas time. Then there is Augie, T.C.’s brother in spirit if not blood, struggling with his sexual identity and finding out that even though we may be different from one another, underneath it all we’re all the same.
It’s a truly wonderful romantic comedy and I think you’ll enjoy it regardless of your age. But if you’re looking for a book for older teens that they can identify with, that will tell them that they aren’t alone in trying to figure out some of the hard questions, you could do a whole lot worse than MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR.
P.S. It now looks that a deal to save FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS for a third season has been reached. Good Job! By the way, if you enjoy the show you should check out the book that led to the movie that led to the TV show. It’s a terrific read.