My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Getting to my point, because I do have one, I think the same is true of books. Some books work because of the tension or suspense they create. Some are funny, or exhilarating, or uplifting. Maybe Probably it’s due to my taste in books, but I don’t often come across books that are simply a joy to read. I mean a story that is as warm and bighearted and generous as its characters, that had me grinning and giggling on almost every page, that relies on the goodness of people to further the story. And that’s what I found in Steve Kluger‘s My Most Excellent Year.
Take two high school freshman, one from a family of Irish-American Red Sox fanatics, T.C. Keller, and his Chinese-American brother, Augie Hwong, who is obsessed with musicals and the divas who starred in them. They’re not brothers due to blood or marriage, but because they decided at the age of six that they were brothers in all ways that mattered. Introduce them to the new girl in school, Alejandra Perez, whom T.C. falls in love with, even though she can’t stand him, and whom Augie needs to perform in the freshman variety show, even though Alé is in denial about her singing and dancing chops because of the expectations of her parents (her father is a former diplomat). T.C. is playing baseball one day when he spots a kid who seems to be able to predict which pitches T.C. should swing at to get a hit, but since the kid always disappears whenver T.C. tries to approach him, he doesn’t know why the kid is helping him or how he knows which pitch is coming, and Augie doesn’t believe the kid actually exists. Augie, meanwhile, is oblivious to his own sexuality, even though everyone else knows he’s gay and are waiting for him to acknowledge it. As the year goes on, Alé loosens up, Augie realizes he’s gay, and T.C. finally meets the kid who was at his baseball games. Add a couple of “Awww”-inspiring romances (seriously, Augie + Andy = my favorite YA romance so far this year), and you end up with a book I couldn’t resist.
Which is not to say the book is flawless. As others have pointed out, this is by no means a perfect book. I’ve never been a fan of the English assignment device as a means of explaining a first-person narrative—I can never believe that people would be so honest and open for a school assignment, and as entertaining as the IM and chat transcripts and correspondance between the adults are, there is no real justification for it—and Hucky (the kid at T.C.’s baseball games) seemed way too well-spoken for a six-year-old. So to speak. Which made him completely adorable, though unrealistic. For that matter, all the characters are completely adorable in an unbelievably perfect, over the top, awesome, but still extremely likable, way. But the bottom line is, it works and I loved it.
And, Jolene, remember your list of what you want to see in books with an Asian-American protagonist? Well, Augie is only one of the protagonists, but you’ve got to read this book.