Harvard Educational Review
  1. My Most Excellent Year

    A Story of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park

    Steven Kluger

    New York: Dial Books, 2008. 403 pp. $16.99

    My Most Excellent Year: A Story of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park tells the story of how three students navigate their incredibly eventful freshman year of high school. Steven Kluger creatively recounts these events in a manner that encourages readers to embrace diversity and effect social change. Because Kluger emphasizes these important messages within the context of an engaging story line, the book is ideal for classroom instruction.

    Through a series of diary entries, most of the story is told from the perspective of three main characters: Anthony (a.k.a. T.C. or “Tick”) Keller, who writes to his deceased mother; Augie Hwong, a self-proclaimed “ABC” (Americanborn Chinese), who writes to various female entertainers he refers to as “divas of the week” (e.g., Liza Minnelli and Natalie Wood); and Alejandra (“Alé”) Perez, the daughter of a retired ambassador to Mexico, who writes to Jacqueline Kennedy. Anthony and Augie are unrelated but refer to each other as brothers because of the strong bond they formed at an early age. The boys meet Alejandra after her family moves to Boston so that her retired father can join Harvard’s history department. Kluger supplements the diary entries with emails and instant messages among the three characters to gradually piece together their story. Although the fragmented nature of this approach takes some getting used to, it quickly becomes fun to engage with, particularly when the characters share their individual perspectives on a single topic.

    Kluger weaves several plots throughout the story, all of which are told in easy, conversational prose that captures the brilliance and wit of teenage banter. Anthony attempts to impress Alejandra through a variety of elaborate schemes and the sometimes-backfiring advice of his father. Meanwhile, Augie demonstrates his penchant for directing theatrical productions and his affection for Andy Wexler, who is receptive yet less eager to come out. The multitalented Alejandra must deal with Anthony’s overtures and her ambivalence about whether to follow in her father’s footsteps or resist his pressure and pursue a career in the performing arts. Along the way Anthony befriends Hucky Harper, a deaf six-year-old foster child whose love for the character Mary Poppins is matched only by his need for a fatherly mentor. The three characters engage in social activism by writing letters to congressmen and other highranking officials, and they also manage to pique the attention of Major League Baseball and Julie Andrews. These plots unfold concurrently as the characters attempt to make sense of their respective worlds and eventually unite to plan a secret mission to make a dream come true for Hucky.

    Adolescent readers may be familiar with themes of teenage love and parental pressure, but Kluger’s unique characters and creative storytelling will engage them nonetheless, and his subtle insight will extend their thinking. Rather than explicitly mandating readers to embrace diversity, Kluger emphasizes this message through the actions and words of his characters. Anthony, who is jockish and white, courts Alejandra, a Latina, with the utmost respect, even as his efforts fall flat. He also supports Augie’s coming-out, as do Alejandra and both of Augie’s parents. Importantly, Kluger recounts these events in a matter-of-fact tone that suggests compassion and tolerance are inherent to human nature rather than a demonstration of upstanding moral character. Moreover, the activism in which the characters engage will impress on readers the importance of advocating for worthy causes that can be supported in a variety of ways.

    Although the characters experience growing pains as they navigate internal and external conflict, the story does not expose readers to many long-term struggles or disappointments. The exception is Anthony’s ongoing effort to cope with the loss of his mother, who passed away when he was six. However, he attends to this loss constructively by writing in his diary and speaking with friends, and eventually he begins to make peace with his heartache. Because the story ends with a strong sense of closure, educators who share this book with students should emphasize that some conflicts last for a long time and may never resolve themselves perfectly.

    A feel-good story with important messages, My Most Excellent Year provides an excellent opportunity for educators to encourage students to open their minds and to inspire them to make the world a better place.

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    Book Notes

    My Most Excellent Year
    Steven Kluger

    Malcolm Gladwell

    Muslim American Youth
    Selcuk R. Sirin and Michelle Fine

    Charles R. Smith Jr.

    Teach Freedom
    Charles Payne and Carol Sills Strickland