“To love and to be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” – David Viscott (via BrainyQuote)
Recently, I finished reading Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park (2008) realistically for the fortieth time.
Before I start gushing about this piece, I will mention a small complaint with the cover – whoever decided to make this illustration failed to do his/her job properly. After recommending this beautiful book to many of my friends, they have rejected it purely based off the cover; we all judge books by its cover, and frankly, this too-cool-for-everything cover deters readers. While the cover is a complete travesty, the tale told in these 416 pages redeems the genre called teen fiction. In general, teen fiction is mostly accompanied with negative feelings of disdain. Adults and teens alike often mention the notoriety of genre for its ridiculous love and/or fantasy stories (Thank you Stephanie Meyer and The Twilight Saga (2005-2008) for ruining it for everyone).
Kluger sets out to create a love-slash-comedy-slash-coming of age-slash-everything sort of story with a unique format – the chapters are written like journal entries by the three protagonists, as part of their ninth-grade English assignment. In this unconventional format, Kluger delves straight into the daily struggles of three different teenagers, and by extension, the people in their lives. T.C. is the resident cool kid that everyone wants to be, from his love to baseball to his love for creating enormous replicas of famous monuments with his father. His best friend, Augie, is a flamboyant jock who is dead set on creating school productions that could rival Broadway, beginning with the talent show. Alejandra, affectionately Alé, the new girl in town, is the daughter of a diplomat with her future mapped out – she will graduate from Harvard with outstanding grades, then join the rest of her family in U.S. diplomacy.
All three teenagers experience some major growing up to do over the course of their freshman year. T.C. finds a deaf six-year old version of himself that he wants to save, Augie comes with terms that he may not fall in love with a girl, and Alé wants to experience life beyond her father’s expectations, starting with “The Music and the Mirror” performance at the talent show. Kluger’s T.C. is the star of the story – he lost his mother almost a decade ago due to cancer, filled that hole her death left with a best friend who is more like a brother, modeled himself to be exactly like his architect father by becoming a mediocre B student, healed a little deaf boy who always sat at the sidelines of T.C.’s baseball games, and found love in the uptight, Jackie O loving daughter of a diplomat.
The novel perfectly handles how we handle love. A mistake that I find prevalent in almost every single teen novel is the expectation of a two-dimensional love – everyone falls in love with one another at first sight, said love fits like a missing puzzle piece, and this journey is black and white. No one mentions that the best part of falling in love is that the love you receive from that one person makes you aware of all the other forms of love you have had the privilege of receiving throughout your life thus far; there is a greater appreciation towards the parents who have unflinchingly loved us since birth to the friends who have stood by us during our darkest days.
Kluger seamlessly crafts the natural interactions between these three young adults and the people around them who expose to them the various forms of love. One example is T.C.’s six-year old counterpart Hucky, a child who was abandoned by people who were supposed to love him unconditionally. Hucky finds his parental figure in the fictional Mary Poppins, and eventually finds a family among the members of the Keller-Hwong clan. Kluger teaches an invaluable lesson to all the know-it-all teenagers out there – love is the greatest gift of all.
the girl who is wishing you (and anyone you cherish) an ineffable love