Know what it feels like to fall in love? That painful, anxious, joyous feeling? The very first moment that you dare to express it and it flounders? Do you dare to express it again? Well, “My Most Excellent Year” by Steve Kluger (Dial Books, March 2008, ages 14 up, 398 pages) will take you there with pleasure.
This novel follows the story of three guys who are on the edge, then over the edge, of falling in love. A widowed father, who is attempting to court a guidance counselor (his son’s, by the way), his son T.C., who is awkwardly trying to reel in the seemingly aloof Alejandra, and his son’s best friend (therefore adopted son) Augie, who is startled to find himself in love with the very wonderful Andy Wexler. The nice thing about this last love story is that everyone knows Augie is gay, except Augie. Even his parents. And they all support him as he figures it out. So his coming out is more of a “no, duh” sigh of relief for all involved. It’s a gentle view of what for many in this world is a difficult time.
In fact, the whole book has a fuzzy feel-good vibe going, which really captivated me. There’s an “It’s a Wonderful Life” magic to the families and the characters. So, really, I was the one falling in love with them all. Especially T.C. Tell me you wouldn’t want to meet a guy like him and fall head over heels in love. I dare you! The book teeters on the edge of too sweet, but thankfully doesn’t tip over (though cynical readers might be turned off by the lack of really intense conflict that is the norm in so many YA’s). The characters and the originality of the voice, combined with it being completely told in letters and IMs and passed notes and journal entries, keeps it grounded. The only crit I have of this book is that it goes on a bit too long. Not that it gets boring, because I was glad to hang in with these people for a long haul (I was falling in love, right?), but it could have been tightened as a plot a bit.
Length aside, I found this book magical. T.C.’s mom, who passed away when T.C. was only six, had filled him with magical wonder that only a six-year-old could believe. Like convincing him that a star could really be named for him because they said so, or that a lost balloon would return to his house if they just gave it time and believed (the mom then got an identical balloon…an unusual one she had to drive out of state to get…and stashed it in T.C.’s room). T.C. becomes an ambassador of this magical optimism and this touches everyone’s lives, inspiring them. Okay, so maybe it’s hard to believe that a few teens can accomplish what this cast does (read the book to find out the several remarkable things they do pull off), but it’s not impossible. Let’s face it, if one person puts their mind to accomplish something, they really can. So pick up “My Most Excellent Year” when it comes out in March, and prepare to be inspired too.