Kluger, Steve. My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. Dial/Penguin, New York: 2008 ISBN 978-0-8037-3227-8 $16.99 408 pp
Three juniors assigned to write about their “most excellent” year all choose the freshman year they became friends in this coming out/coming of age story that blends baseball, theatre, international politics, activism and Japanese internment. Told in a round robin style, motherless Anthony (a.k.a. Tick) is the lynchpin of the story – he and best friend Augie, a musical theatre fan, consider themselves to be non-biological brothers. Augie directs the Freshman Follies and falls hard for a jock, who falls back while Tick crushes on Alejandra, who, ordained by her parents to attend Harvard and become an ambassador or diplomat, aspires to be a musical theatre star. The trio not only pull off a phenomenal stage shows, they also get a park at Manazanar dedicated to the teams that played there. Motherless Tick befriends a deaf orphan named Hucky who is convinced Mary Poppins is going to come and take care of him, and it is through the relationship he develops with Hucky that Ale sees him as something more than an impertinent Bostonian.
Kluger magnificently weaves together multiple storylines in this epistolary novel told in emails, instant messages, essays, conversations, and ephemera such as playbills, expertly revealing plot and character through these documents. It is evident that he has affection for his characters, as their personalities emerge strongly, revealing each teen in turn as clever, sensitive, introspective, passionate, confident, scared, and caring. Supporting adults are well-drawn–Pop doles out advice to his son that only backfires, but his own romance brewing with Tick’s school advisor is endearing and subtle.
The suburbs of Boston and streets of New York take on a life of their own, through dialect and landmarks, that culminates in Tick’s climatic trip to NYC to bring Hucky to meet his idol, Julie Andrews. Humor abounds, and balances out more serious issues. Augie’s homosexuality is refreshingly viewed with nothing but support–in fact, all the characters “know” long before he officially comes out–perhaps the obsession with divas of stage and screen gives it away.
A promotional website includes excerpts from the book and pages dedicated to clearing Buck Weaver’s name from the White Sox’s World Series fix, and bringing baseball back to Manzanar, two pet projects of Tick’s. Although it is far-fetched that plot events fall into place so perfectly, My Most Excellent Year is a story with so many moments of magic, it somehow works. My Most Excellent Year is sure to satisfy fans of Kluger’s most excellent novel, Last Days of Summer, and please new readers across many ages.