Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
The moment I saw my good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous give My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger such a glowing review, I knew I would want to read it. I went on Goodreads and also realized that another friend, Flannery of The Readventurer, rated it highly. I wanted to grab a copy as soon as I could but since books are expensive here in Singapore, I waited until I was in Manila before buying the paperback. I’ve had my copy since December last year and only felt like reading it recently. I was in the mood for a fun contemporary YA read and thought My Most Excellent Year would fit the bill. It was published in 2009 so I realized it’s the perfect choice for a Retro Friday review.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Alé. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Alé‚ is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious! Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.
I am happy to report that My Most Excellent Year lived up to my expectations. It is such a feel good, heartwarming kind of read. I have no idea why it isn’t more well-known. It’s been out for a while now and I think only a handful of my blogging buddies have read it. It’s a good thing I love spreading the word about under-the-radar titles because I need to convince more people to read this. At first glance, I didn’t think My Most Excellent Year was the kind of book that I would enjoy mostly because the story has alternating POVs (T.C., Augie and Alé) and their interests lie in American history and politics, baseball and musicals. While I love seeing musicals, I’m not a die-hard fan who knows all the songs, actors/actresses and notable performances. And I know next to nothing about baseball and American history. In spite of that, I was absorbed by the story because at its core, My Most Excellent Year is about family, friendship and first love. I was charmed by the thought of two boys, T.C. and Augie, deciding to be brothers when they were 6 years old. Not like two best friends who think of each other as brothers, they really act like siblings to the point that even their parents have gotten used to having two sons instead of just one. So they have a Mom, Dad and a Pop. They share their rooms in two households and they have vacations together. I thought it was so sweet how warm and accommodating their families were. This book has such great parents in it, I think it’s worthwhile to point that out since we rarely see wonderful parents in YA.
During ninth grade, both T.C. and Augie have to deal with falling in love for the first time. It was so much fun to see them struggling to adjust to what they’re feeling (especially Augie, who hasn’t even figured out that he likes boys instead of girls). It was sweet how supportive they are of each other, not just in their love lives but also in their interests in general. Like T.C. would watch musicals with Augie even if he doesn’t really enjoy them. Being great guys, it’s not surprising when T.C. befriends a lonely, deaf six-year-old boy called Hucky and Augie was right there along with him. T.C. wanted to reach out to Hucky because he sees a young Augie in the little boy, while Augie thinks Hucky was exactly like T.C. when they were that age. I hope it doesn’t seem too confusing that there are a lot of characters in the book because it was very easy to get to know the characters. I also really liked the format of the book – emails between various characters (I loved how even the parents email each other about their kids), IM messages and diary entries. I could relate to the format because that’s also how I communicate with friends and family, especially now that I live away from home. This was such a lovely, immensely readable book, the kind that lets you end on a happy sigh. While younger in tone and feel compared to some of the other contemporary YA novels that I loved, I still highly recommend My Most Excellent Year to anyone who needs an uplifting type of read. I’m mighty curious about the rest of Steve Kluger’s back list.