Monday, February 10, 2014

Arty -- My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Look who's finally getting around to appearing again! Sorry, I had an influx of homework and suddenly all I was reading was stuff that you can't really review on a "fluffy stuff you read to feel good" sort of review blog. Also, look for the review of January this Wednesday, because I am slime who can't keep a deadline.

Anyway! Let's talk about happy things, such as books that make me laugh out loud. My Most Excellent Year is one such book.

In it, we have Anthony Keller, aka Tony C, aka T.C., aka Tick, a crusader for baseball rights and the love of the new girl in town; Augie Hwong, obsessed with and knowledgable about all things related to classic movies and musicals; Alejandra Perez, the above-mentioned new girl in town who also happens to be the daughter of a UN ambassador, a crusader for social justice, and a closet singer/dancer. Throw in a small deaf child named Hucky with a serious addiction to Mary Poppins, budding romance between kids and adults alike, and enough baseball and cinema references to choke a Wookie, and you have My Most Excellent Year.

Firstly, the writing is excellent. Like John Green, there tends to be one overall tone for the characters, without much deviation in terms of character voice; unlike John Green (I'm so sorry), Kluger manages to pull it off. Maybe it's because the subject matter is more lighthearted than JG tends to go for. Anyway, with such smooth, natural writing, it's kind of a given that it'll succeed at the emotional/comedic points it attempts. And it does, for the most part (no novel is perfect).

The characters were, on the whole, loads of fun. T.C. starts out as a pretty flat, clichĂ© character, but by the time the novel ended, he'd uncovered his secret stash of complexity and emotion and won my heart, succeeding where most characters like him don't (his mother is dead, he's chasing after a girl who doesn't like him, et cetera et cetera). AlĂ©, on the other hand, never really got much affection from me. Maybe it's because I know/have experienced people like her in real life and it's never been fun (people who can make a social issue out of a tissue box). She got more bearable towards the end, and she did have her moments of fun, but overall, she was probably my least favorite character (along with Wei, Augie's mom, who had the same problem).

The characters who really stole the show, though, were Augie and Hucky. Augie, unlike T.C., spouted off trivia I could appreciate - old classic movie trivia. Some of his references I got ("The Cub Room. Where the elite meet.") and some of them reminded me of movies I have to watch soon. His whole thing (all of the characters in this book have a thing) was practically perfect in every way; he managed to be obsessive and a little neurotic without being overbearing, and, indeed, typically being adorable. I would have appreciated more substance in his relationship with Andy, and after a certain point I didn't want them to end up together as much as I had before, but the whole relationship was handled in a sensitive and yet hilarious way, so I don't have much to complain about.

(And I can't say anything about Augie without saying something about his All About Eve addiction. Just wait until you get to the part where he retells the Tooth Fairy story. If he were straight, I would have married him on the spot.)

There's also Hucky, the six-year-old child living in a home for deaf children. I was skeptical of Hucky at first - little kids with disabilities usually end up getting used as emotional props - but he was actually a really adorable character. He's testy, obsessed with Mary Poppins (how many times can I use the word 'obsessed' in one review?), and he helps T.C. cheat at informal baseball games. What more can you say?

The story is rambling, in a good way. There's no real point to the plot, though there are some longterm goals set by the story. And in the end, they're all met. There's a beautiful sense of closure that a lot of 'genreless' novels like these don't have. And that makes a huge difference. Putting down a book with a smile on your face - priceless.

So if you're in the mood for some fun, light-hearted rambles through Boston with a handful of quirky ninth-graders (and a six-year-old with an attitude) (and some hilarious and extraordinarily human parents) (and an older brother who will surprise you) (and a dog named Nehi) (and a lot of references to All About Eve), then I'd definitely recommend My Most Excellent Year.

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