Author: Steve Kluger
Publication Date: 3/13/08
Blurb (GR): 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 miss Boston. I miss walking through the Commons in the fall, drinking on roof decks in the summertime, riding the T and just getting off at random stops, shoveling my car out, pumpkin ale, my book club besties, Fenway franks, that feeling that a bar gets when a Dropkick Murphys song comes on, and perusing the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Hell, I even miss the frakking BU students who ride the green line and the 57 TWO STOPS instead of just walking. This book almost made me physically sick with nostalgia. That’s the kind of hold Boston can exert over a person--and only lived there for a few years. I loved this book. It filled the Boston-shaped hole in my heart.
The author blurb on Goodreads does not tell me where Steve Kluger grew up, but if it isn’t Boston/Brookline, I’ll eat my own hand. Alright, don’t worry too much about me, I’m back from visiting his website and he lives in Boston. I’m glad I checked him out because it confirms something else I'd been thinking—this book is very close to Kluger’s heart. He wrote what he knows and is passionate about and did a fabulous job of it. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, romance, and speculative/dystopian fiction. All of these genres are fun to read but I rarely connect with them on an emotional level. Young adult books often get a bad rap but I honestly can't think of an adult book that has moved me the way that several YA books (most recently this one and The Piper's Son, which I can't recommend highly enough) have--especially lately.
What do an Asian gay teenager, a deaf orphan, a single dad, the Hispanic daughter of a diplomat, Julie Andrews, and a same-sex couple, one of whom is a Congresswoman have in common? That's right, they are all characters in this book. People on the lookout for absolute realism should probably give this one a skip but I truly think they would be missing out. This book is about the little magical moments in life and it would be a shame if a reader couldn't just run with the story on this one. After all, we're supposed to be the dreamers, aren't we? Back to the story: TC Keller (Anthony Conigliaro Keller) is named for a famous Red Sox player, as are many other members of his extended family, including his father, Teddy. (after Ted Williams of baseball AND tunnel fame in Beantown) After losing his mother at age six, TC became best friends and brothers (of a sort) with Augie Hwong. Fast forward to high school and the two are now writing a school essay about their "most excellent year." (freshman year) Still best friends, the two are joined in their essay-writing by Alejandra Perez, TC's crush who recently moved to Brookline when her father accepted a position at Harvard.
The story is told in epistolary fashion and I think it is the better for it. Because we not only have sections of Augie, TC, and Alé's essays, but also snippets of news articles, IM coversations, parent/teacher conference transcripts,and letters, we get a feel for so many side characters. One of the best things about this book, if not THE best part, is how you get a feel for the community--not only the family members but also the school, the neighborhood and Red Sox Nation. Boston has a very community feel to it to begin with and I loved how the book really hit home (pun intended) on that note. I've lived all over the place but there aren't many cities where it is totally normal to go to little league or pick-up baseball games if you aren't a kid and don't have a kid on the team. And Kluger takes readers all over the city on dates and adventures. He just gets it.
This book is a wonderful example of getting relationships right. Parental relationships, lifelong friendships. sibling relationships (whether blood or otherwise), and I think the most moving relationship was that of mentor/big brother. I think Hucky Harper might be one of my favorite characters ever. TC first sees Hucky, a six-year old boy, watching his baseball game. After Hucky gives TC the pitch calls when TC is at bat with stunning accuracy, TC befriends him and they form an adorable relationship. Hucky, for the depressing reason in the spoiler above, is orphaned. (not at all depressing in itself but only because he was in the foster system because of it) He hasn't spoken to anyone in over a year and spends most of his time watching Mary Poppins. While the book is about what made that specific year the most excellent for TC, Augie, and Alé, I know it will be far up there in Hucky's life as well. The extent to which everyone in TC's life went to bring Hucky into their fold was heartwarming.
The blurb about this book indicates that it is about young love. I mean, I guess it is. Both Augie and TC spend most of their year developing meaningful relationships with classmates. When it comes down to it, I cared much more about the secondary storylines in this one. But don't get me wrong--I loved every bit of it.
The bottom line is that this book made me want to move back to Boston, find a cool house in Brookline, and start procreating.