Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Most Excellent Year

Biblio Bits My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger, Dial Books, 2008 (ISBN 9780803732278)

Reading Level/Interest Age 1030 lexile/Ages 13+

Genre Realistic Fiction, Humor, Romance

Plot Summary
Ninth grade holds some surprises for T.C., Augie, and Alejandra. T.C. doesn't expect to fall head-over-heels for the new girl, Alejandra, the smart, politically-minded, daughter of an ambassador, who has zero interest in his attention. Augie, T.C's Chinese-American "brother," doesn't expect to direct the school talent show or to have his first crush on a boy (and he really doesn't expect that everyone already knows he's gay!). Alejandra (or Ale) has no idea what to expect from a public school, she doesn't expect to get on stage and perform in front of an audience, and she does not expect that she can ever live up to the plan that her parents have for her. She certainly doesn't expect that she'll ever give the time of day to T.C.! None of them expect that a deaf six year-old boy will change their lives. This romantic comedy is a roaring good time and is told in IMs, emails, and letters between the characters.

Critical Evaluation
What a crazy cast of characters, but somehow Kluger makes it all work so well together in this book. I was skeptical about the IM, email, and letter-written format when I started it, figuring it would be distracting and just a cute gimmick. But it really worked here and actually enhanced the flow and pace of the story. Each of the three main characters, T.C., Ale, and Augie, alternate "narration" in each chapter, yet the narration comes from their own content (letters), as well as content by others (parents, friends, and even some people who are mostly on the periphery). This is a classic romantic comedy, so we know the ending will be positive. But it's not just fluff, there's some real depth. Themes about identity and self-discovery, friendship, grief, and dreams. This is a book about engaged youth who care about each other, good causes, their families, and they are teens who ultimately do good things for the world.

Reader's Annotation
Dancing, theatrical productions, romance...Wait! Wait! There's also baseball, die-hard Red Sox fans, and baseball trivia. There's an ace lip-reader who steals pitching signs to tip off the batter. It's all tied up in this story about a few kids and the stuff they care about.

Author Information
Steve Kluger was born in 1952 and grew up in Maryland. He has worked as an actor and playwrite. He's a gay activist and an ardent baseball fan. Kluger has written plays and books for adults and youth, many of which feature baseball. He lives in Boston, "the only city in the world." (Information for this author biography are from his official website and the Gale's Contemporary Authors Online, 2002.)

Challenge issues
Some swearing, a pretty liberal worldview, and a gay protagonist might be the areas that would draw negative attention.

Booktalking Ideas
It's a tough sell to get this book into the hands of boys because of the darn girly cover (softcover has a slightly less girly look). So I would choose NOT to show the cover at all. I would introduce listeners to the three main characters who share the fact that during their ninth grade year, each of them faces some unexpected challenges...but I would stress the fact that I laughed my way through the whole book! It definitely falls in the category of Love with a Laugh, and I might pair it with An Abundance of Katherines (Green, 2006), What My Mother Doesn't Know (Sones, 2001), and Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (Rennison, 2000).

Curriculum Ties
I love how the English teacher has the students writing letters. T.C. writes to his mom, Augie writes to movie stars, and Ale writes to Jackie Kennedy. (And of course Hucky writes to Mary Poppins.) With the exception of Hukcy, these letters won't be sent (many recipients are dead anyway). What does it mean to write a letter that you know won't reach it's addressee? Each of our three main characters has chosen their letter recipient to be someone who they feel knows them and their experience somehow. Have students pick someone to write to---alive or dead---who they share something with: share a problem or issue and ask for their advice. Students will need to refer to things in the recipient's life that show that they "know" them, like Augie, Tick, and Ale do.

Why this book?
Funny, funny, and funny. And then I cried at the end. But what I really love is how the friendship between Augie and T.C. is portrayed: totally supportive (including when they razz each other!) and completely believable.


Rockport Public Library owns?

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