Wednesday, May 7, 2008

This most excellent book: A novel of love, friendship and the complications of relationships

Danielle of the Cliffside Park library has been raving about My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park, so I pushed it a few slots forward on my to-read list.

The plot: This is the chronicle of 2003, an important year in the lives of high school freshman Augie Hwong, Alejandra (aka Ale) Perez and Anthony Conigliaro (aka Tony, Tony C, T.C. or Tick, depending on who you are). In letters to a First Lady, a dead mother and various theater divas, the three teens share hilarious, heartwarming stories of falling in love with everything from boys to girls to theater. T.C., a baseball fanatic, gets batting instructions from six-year-old Hucky, who quickly becomes a friend. He also spearheads a political campaign involving baseball at Manzanar to catch the eye of politically aware Alejandra. Alejandra, raised by diplomats, is destined for career in either politics, which her father heartily approves of, or theater, which he most definitely does not. Augie, T.C.'s brother in all but blood, is gay and out to everyone but himself. He falls for jock Andy, but is Andy ready to take their relationship public? Interspersed with Ale, T.C. and Augie's letters to their idols are hilarious communications between parents, school counselors, congresspeople and celebrities. In the end, there's a madcap romp worthy of any Broadway comedy involving Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins, a train to New York City and Vanessa Redgrave (briefly).

Why you'll love it: Let's start with a downer, because really, there are many uppers: This is not a perfect book. It drags through the middle and the storyline about Hucky, especially in the end, is pretty contrived. But I was willing to overlook a lot of that (and you should, too) because Augie, Alejandra, and T.C. are warm, caring and delightfully over the top. Tired of patrons who complain that all teen books are depressing? Give them this book and prove them wrong. T.C. and Augie's friendship is unwavering; they overlook the petty things in favor of their loyalty to each other. Although T.C.'s mother is dead and this is a source of angst for him, he always thinks fondly of her and wants his single dad to be happy. Alejandra uses her diplomatic skills to stand up for herself and show her parents that she's taken control of her own life. Augie's parents have known forever that he's gay, and they support him no matter what. Most importantly, this book is a terrific study in what it means to love someone and the many facets love has. (And woe to English for only having one word for "love!") Love comes in many forms in this story, from crushes to missing a family member to a deep bonding of souls to helping someone less fortunate than you. In the end, everyone loves and is loved, and that leaves the reader with a happy feeling. Which I think is something we could all use more of.

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