My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park
(2008) is a humorous young adult fiction novel by Steve Kluger. The story follows ninth graders and best friends T.C. and Augie. T.C. falls in love with a diplomat’s daughter, Alejandra, who is bright, talented, and on her way to Harvard, and Augie slowly finds out what everyone else already knows: he’s gay and in love with another boy. Told in alternating viewpoints, this novel is about coming-of-age and living their best year. While T.C. consistently writes his diary entries to his mother and Alé writes to Jacqueline Kennedy, Augie changes who he writes to with each of his chapters. Augie picks a new diva he admires each week: Liza Minnelli, Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall, Angela Lansbury, Judy Garland, and finally, his friend Alé.
The book begins with three short chapters written as English class essays that introduce each of the main characters. Anthony “T.C.” Keller is obsessed with baseball, has a thick Boston accent, and lost his mom when he was younger. His mission of the year is to clear Buck Weaver’s name for cheating in baseball. Augie Hwong is a Chinese American student; his mother escaped the Chekiang Province and became a social activist and journalist. He and T.C. have been unofficial brothers since they met when they were six. Alejandra “Alé” Perez is the daughter of the former Mexican ambassador. She has straight-A grades, and no talent for diplomacy—especially not compared to her brother Carlos, who is the “ideal ambassador’s son.” She is socially aware and reads books on civil rights and politics. For T.C. it is love at first sight when he meets Alejandra, but she is not interested, responding to his note with a job rejection letter.
Augie is the last to figure out that he is gay, whereas correspondence between Augie’s and T.C.’s fathers reveals that everyone already knows and is just confused that he hasn’t said anything yet. Meanwhile, Augie is helping Andy Wexler improve his soccer skills, and slowly coming to the realization that he might have a crush on Andy. Andy, meanwhile, also gay and clueless, attempts to hit on Alé, who is unimpressed with the general selection of boys on offer at the school. In her diary, she gives a short summation of the boys in her class—the gay ones, the idiots, the ones who have yet to discover hygiene, and T.C., who irritates her (except he doesn’t). She also secretly takes a modern dance class that only her secret service detail knows about. To impress Alé, T.C. decides to recite Kennedy’s inaugural address at the talent show.
Augie used to wonder what would happen if he and T.C. liked the same girl, but now that he realizes he is gay and likes Andy, that is no longer a problem, and he is relieved. He also starts coming out and is surprised that no one is surprised. Augie finds out about Alé’s singing and dancing talents and immediately puts her on the schedule for the talent show. On the big night, Alé is impressed by T.C.’s painstaking rendition of the Kennedy address, and she conquers her stage fright to do the final act of the show, winning first prize. The talent show success leads to Augie and Alé being asked to audition for the school play, Kiss Me, Kate
At baseball practice, T.C. meets a six-year-old deaf boy who is interested in the sport, so he decides to learn ASL to communicate with Hucky about baseball. Hucky idolizes Mary Poppins and reminds T.C. strongly of Augie when they met; Augie had been a loner who kept people at a distance, and T.C. helped draw him out. Naturally, T.C. gets Augie to learn sign language as well and teaches Alé some as well. T.C. is slowly wearing Alé down; she starts liking him despite herself.
As summer break approaches, Alé wants to go to a theater program instead of interning at the French embassy or working with her father in the Harvard History Dept. She still hasn’t told her parents about the singing and dancing lessons, or her audition for the school play. Although her perfect older brother, Carlos, already knows about all of it, she finds out that he has been covering for her all the while. Meanwhile, T.C. gets a write-up in Sports America
for his crusade to clear Buck Weaver’s name. Near the end of the novel, T.C. and Hucky meet Julie Andrews when they sneak away to New York and into a theater where she is performing. While there, T.C. runs into Liza Minnelli, who chats with Augie on the phone until she must leave. The play also goes exceedingly well; Alé ends up getting a professional part in Bye Bye Birdie
The final chapters skip from ninth grade to eleventh grade. Augie ultimately decides to become a director and choreographer, and finally comes out to his parents. Alé has had a string of stage roles and enjoys being a young actor far more than diplomacy. T.C.’s dad adopts Hucky. T.C. decides that he wants to go into politics; his crusades have been excellent training for campaigns.My Most Excellent Year
won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award and the Peggy Miller Award, and was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award for Young Adult Book and the Rhode Island Teen Book Award. The style of the book is unusual; instead of a straight prose narrative, the chapters are compilations of school assignments, diary entries, emails and correspondence between major and minor characters, websites, schedules for the talent show, and snatches of conversations written like a script. Most of the book is a meandering slice of life, full of digressions and day-to-day living.