Steve Kluger’s Teen Novel “My Most Excellent Year” May Need a Spoonful of “Reality” To Go with the Sugar-coating

excellent-yearMy Most Excellent Year–A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park
Steve Kluger
Dial Books (Hardback), Penguin (Paperback)
ISBN-13-9780803732278

0185d371410f29521


Last night I finished Steve Kluger’s novel, My Most Excellent Year–A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park. Since I have set out to review some of the books I am reading, this morning I’ll have at it before I forgot too much to be able to write about it.

The title extension, “A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park” gives the reader some definite clues about what might be found in this fanciful story, and “fanciful” this novel is indeed. The plot centers on the closely interwoven lives of three high school freshmen: T.C., a Red Sox-loving, future politician; Augie, a soccer-playing, musical showman, sparkling in his own gay self-awareness; and Alejandra, a hob-nobbing diplomat’s daughter, soon-to-be stage ingenue.

Kluger creates the storyline of these teenagers by devoting each consecutive chapter to the point of view of one of the main character’s in a variety of narrative means: essays for class, emails, and text messages. This unusual style takes a bit of getting used to, but Kluger manages to keep the story smooth and cohesive throughout.

I keep coming back to the idea of “fanciful”; there’s no better way to describe this story. These three 15-year-olds lead such active lives that not even the most adept soccer mom could keep up: they play sports, create and perform elaborate shows, excel in school, and even have time to bring a deaf orphan into their lives. Moreover, if some problem does come into their idyllic lives, one way or another it’s solved, faster than Proactiv on a Jessica Simpson pimple!

This book has been out for more than a year (March 2008), so I wondered what other reviews might say; everything I’ve read so far is glowing. Powells.com says this: “Steve Kluger is an acclaimed author of novels for adults, and this is his first crack at writing for teens. And in case you were wondering, he totally nails it.”

When I went to Kluger’s own website, I realized I had read a couple of his books before; I don’t remember much about them, though.

The big question in my mind is really, “Who was Kluger’s audience when he wrote this book?” Powell’s thinks he “totally nails it.” For teen readers, I’m not so sure. This book is replete with references to show biz, political, and sports notables, mostly of the 60s, 70s, and 80s–Liza Minelli and Julie Andrews, Jacqueline Kennedy and JFK, Bucky Dent–not the most common figures these days.

Language-wise, My Most Excellent Year–A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park is written for young readers (I found it in the Juvenile Literature section of the library). There is no strong language and the most intimacy between the characters is hand-holding and a couple of kisses. I suppose someone might get upset that one of the kisses is between two teenage boys.

But once again who is this book written for? There’s not enough sports competition for teenagers into sports to be really pulled into it. Aside from at one point, when Augie’s boyfriend wants him to act more masculine, his sexuality is fully accepted by everyone– his parents, teachers, and classmates, and after he realizes that he is gay–by he himself. There are several romantic relationships that do keep the story moving and cohesive, but once again, this story is so “fanciful” (and predictable) that the outcome of each is a foregone conclusion.

This is not a book that is going to assuage the bullying that some gay kid is getting in school, and this is not the book that is going to give a kid some glimpse of how to deal with un-accepting parents and friends.

However, this may be the “fanciful” book that allows that same kid a way to escape from some of his own “reality” for a few hours.

But with all of the historical references that are part of it, though, I’d say this novel was more likely written by Steve Kluger for Steve Kluger.

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