My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park

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9780142413432: My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park

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 Al‚. She's pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Al‚ 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.

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About the Author:

Steve Kluger lives in Santa Monica, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE FIRST MOVE

Even though I should have listened to Augie when he told me that Alejandra needed special handling, I didn’t. Instead, on the first day of school I stuck a note into her social studies book. This wasn’t a kissing kind of strategy to show her how cute I am, it was because my voice is changing so fast I couldn’t count on it not to crack when I told her I loved her. And who wants a boyfriend who sounds like he needs a tune-up?

DEAR ALLIE: I’M CONSIDERING A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU. AND BY THE WAY, FORGET THAT MRS. FITZPATRICK CALLS ME ANTHONY. YOU CAN CALL ME T.C.

—T.C.

After phys ed there was a vanilla envelope on my desk with purple writing on it that looked like it came from the principal’s office—and I don’t usually get called in there until at least November.

Dear Anthony:

I appreciate your recent interest, but I’m not accepting applications at this time. Your letter will be kept in our files and someone will get back to you if there is an opening.

Thank you for thinking of me.

Respectfully,

Alejandra Perez

P.S. It’s not “Allie.” It’s “Alé.”

OTHER BOOKS YOU MAY ENJOY

STEVE KLUGER

Table of Contents

English Assignment

T.C. Keller, 11th Grade

Ms. LaFontaine’s Class

MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR

Part 1: My Family

[Note to Ms. LaFontaine: I didn’t mean to give you a hard time about the title of this assignment, but “My Totally Excellent Year” would have been like so 1995, we’d have been laughed out of Brookline if anybody found out. Especially if these things are going to be attached to our college apps. So in the future, you might want to check with me ahead of time about this kind of stuff. —T.C.]

Since you’d never guess it from looking at me, nobody can tell that words like because, fart, there, and banana come out sounding like “becazz,” “faht,” “they-a,” and “bananer” when I say them out loud. I got this from Pop, who’s even worse than I am. One time we took the train down to New York so he could show me where Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds used to be, and while we were ordering pizza in Brooklyn and back-and-forthing about who you’d rather have batting cleanup behind you—Pistol Pete Reiser or Charlie Banks—the waitress asked us what country we were from. (Like they’ve got room to talk in Brooklyn.)

A lot of the snoots on Beacon Hill like to tell you that their ancestors came over with the Pilgrims, but this didn’t happen to us Kellers. We came over with the Red Sox. My grandpa’s name was Tris Speaker Keller (after the 1907 outfielder they called “The Grey Eagle”), my dad’s name is Theodore Williams Keller (world-famous slugger with ’tude in 1940-something), and I even have an Aunt Babe and an Aunt Ruth. (This was a lucky coincidence. They met thirty-eight years ago at a Bobby Kennedy rally in Rockport and they’ve been together ever since. Aunt Babe swears they would have fallen in love even if Aunt Ruth’s name had been Sheba, but I’m not so sure.) Pop couldn’t decide whether to call me Rico Petrocelli or Freddy Lynn, but Uncle Yaz had twins that year and beat him to it. That’s how I wound up Anthony Conigliaro Keller (another snarly batting champ who got zapped in the face with a fastball in 1967, which somehow turned him into a hero). And the only one who’s allowed to call me Tony C is my dad, because I’m the only one who gets to call him Teddy Ballgame. To everybody else I’m just T.C. Except to my brother Augie, who calls me Tick.

I should probably explain the brother thing, except I don’t really remember how it happened. We were in first grade, the Red Sox were in fourth place, and I had a brand-new hole in my heart from losing my mother. But even though Augie and I had never talked to each other before, he was the only one who knew what to say and how to say it. (Everybody else thought they could get away with blowing smoke up my ass about Guardian Angels and Eternal Paradise, like my mother had gone on a Princess Cruise.) Pretty soon we were taking make-believe trips to the planet Twylo and losing our thumbs to alien walnuts, and that’s when I knew for sure that I wouldn’t be sad forever. Well, anybody who can pull off something like that for you isn’t just a best friend—that’s brother territory. So Augie told his mom and dad that they had a new son, and I told Pop the same thing. Screw biology.

Mama died when I was six. She was the one who taught me to believe in magic, but not by reading me books like The Silver Sorceress of Oz or Brothers Grimm—she proved it instead. Right after my third birthday, we went to Derry, New Hampshire, for her cousin’s wedding, and before we left they gave me a purple balloon that said “Congratulations Bobby and Penny” on it. (Mama’s half of the family all has normal names.) Well, when you’re three, you just know that a purple balloon is pretty much the biggest thing that’s ever going to happen to you—especially when you let go of it on the way back to Brookline and it flies out the window of your Subaru. My mother finally got me to stop crying by promising that my purple balloon was flying all over Boston looking for me, and that if I watched the sky long enough, it’d see me and come home. So Pop and I stood in the backyard looking straight up for two hours, waiting for it to zero in for a landing. But no snap. Then all of a sudden from inside the house I heard Mama calling out, “T.C.! Come quick! Look who’s here!” And damn if my purple balloon wasn’t bobbing up and down against the ceiling of our front porch. (I was ten before I figured out that she drove all the way back to Derry, New Hampshire, just to get me another one.)

So except for my brother Augie, who lives in the Kennedy half of Brookline, it’s just me and Teddy Ballgame and our eight-year-old spaniel named Nehi. Usually Pop wakes me up at 6:00 every morning and we put on our sweats. Then we bike over to B.U. and run along the Charles River up to the Lowell tower and back—and on the way home, I give him a sixty-second head start, which he says is never enough because I always catch up to him at Dunster House. (Not that it really matters, since Nehi beats both of us back to our bikes anyway.) Boston University is Pop’s old hangout. He played football and baseball there, and he still looks enough like Joe Montana that once in a while people ask him for Joe’s autograph (usually around Super Bowl weekend). So he gives it to them. My dad’s easy. Even if he’s never heard of Stevie Nicks, Justin Timberlake, or Avi Vinocur.

That was my life until ninth grade, my most excellent year. And then I got drop-kicked by a six-year-old kid and the girl of my dreams.

English Assignment

Augie Hwong, 11th Grade

Ms. LaFontaine’s Class

MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR

Part 1: My Family

Even though my mother is an FOB (fresh off the boat) who snuck out of Chekiang Province with Grandma and Grandpa Der two steps ahead of the Secret Police, she doesn’t run around the house like those chopsticky people in Flower Drum Song singing “ching-a-ling-a-ling” with her finger in the air. She already knew how to speak English before they sailed into San Francisco Bay, and somehow she wound up launching every one of her civil rights crusades in the theatre column she wrote for the Boston Globe—even when she was reviewing Peter Pan. Now she covers symphonies, social events, and local celebrities. It’s safer for everybody that way. But Mom’s the one who taught me all about original cast albums and black-and-white movies while I was still learning how to crawl. (Do you know who sang opposite John Raitt in The Pajama Game? Have you ever heard of Reta Shaw? Didn’t think so.)

My father and I are both ABCs (American-born Chinese), but that’s where the resemblance ends. He once played Bruce Lee in a college production of Dragon, and I once played Ethel Merman in a living room musicale for Grandma Lily. Dad graduated from Notre Dame without a chip on his shoulder and opened an independent bookstore on Harvard Street called The Word Shop, which is one of the most popular hangouts in Brookline. For grown-ups it’s the coffee bar, the chocolate chip lattés, and the lemon honey cakes. For kids it’s the polished wood walls, the polished wood shelves, and the polished wood floors. You can skateboard from Naked Travel Destinations to Socratic Theory in under five seconds. My brother Tick is aiming for 4½. Suddenly, so is every other sixteen-year-old in our zip code.

Even in first grade everybody wanted to be Tick. If he invented a word like gink, it was part of every kid’s vocabulary by the end of recess. When he wore his Red Sox T-shirt backwards because he felt like it, all the other boys started wearing their T-shirts backwards too because they felt like it. (Which, by the way, is the only fashion statement my brother ever learned to make.) But he always acted like he wasn’t even aware of it. I was. As a professional sideline watcher with plenty of time on my hands, I never missed a thing. In fact, the only day I ever remember being spoken to up until then was when some gink asked me if slanted eyes hurt.

All of that changed after Tick’s mom died. He was out of school for two weeks, and when he came back none of the other guys knew what to say to him. Partly because “sorry, dude” seemed kind of ginky for the occasion, and partly because—thinking like six-year-olds—they were afraid to get too close on account of what if a dead mother was catching? But I didn’t have to worry about social graces, seeing as I’d never had a chance to speak to him anyway.

“What are those?”

“Huh?” I was sitting on a low brick wall underneath a couple of spruce trees and eating a sandwich, guaranteed to be by myself as usual. That day’s menu featured roast beef on rye with something scary peeking out from under the crust. Mom always insisted on adding bok choy, chin-chiang, tat soi, shunkyo, or just about anything else that belonged in a lawn mower. For some reason mustard was out of the question.

“They look funny,” said Tick. “Like the long fingers that aliens have.”

“Uh—sprouts,” I stammered. “Want some?”

“Trade.”

So for a week I took charge of his tuna fish and ham while he had to figure out what to do with the mei qing choi. (One afternoon we decided to plant some of it and see what would happen. Nothing grew, but all of the grass died.) He never ever said anything about his mom, and I learned pretty quick that this was the Forbidden Zone—but he told me about the twenty-foot model of Fenway Park that he and his dad were building in the basement and about why he thought the rings around Saturn were made out of marbles and about his Carlton Fisk rookie card and about having two aunts who were married to each other. I didn’t realize it just yet, but my future had abruptly made a left turn. After a couple of days all the other kids were talking to me. More important, I was talking to them.

Meanwhile, Tick and I were so busy making plans, I didn’t even notice. Who had the time? On any day in particular, we were pirates, aliens, cops, dino hunters, and brothers. But it was “brothers” that turned out to be a lot tougher than it looked. Once we’d thought about it, we figured out that brothers tell each other all of their secrets, buy each other cool birthday presents that nobody else would think of, yell at each other and not mean it, and always believe each other no matter how dumb it sounds. (Brothers also share the same bedroom, but we’d fixed that problem with sleepovers—because you just can’t play Galaxy Fighters on the ceiling with colored flashlights unless it’s dark.) So going by the rules, we already were brothers. The only thing we didn’t have was the same parents to call Mom, Dad, or Pop.

“Why can’t we call them that anyway?” Well, we tried it just to see what would happen, and our families got used to it so quick that nobody remembers who’s genetic anymore. Whenever Pop takes us out to the Union Oyster House for dinner, he always introduces us as his kids—and when we went to Daytona Beach over Easter with Mom and Dad, the hotel rooms were reserved for “Mr. and Mrs. Hwong and sons.” Of course, once in a while people look at us funny and you know they’re trying to figure out how both of us can be brothers when only one of us is Asian, but we just tell them that we have different fathers. (Hey, it’s true, isn’t it?) And nobody ever had to ask twice.

Then Tick decided it was time to add one more member to our family when he fell in love for the first time. Up until then, the girls he generally went after were quiet, timid, pliable, and all over him—but his new target was headstrong, opinionated, intelligent, an admitted pain in the ass, and she couldn’t stand the sight of him. Most people don’t like challenges. Tick collects them.

INSTANT MESSENGER

TCKeller: DEFCON 3! DEFCON 3! Did you see the new girl in the third row??

AugieHwong: That’s Alejandra. Her father was the ambassador to Mexico, so this one has substance. The Kissing Bandit routine isn’t going to work. (Like it ever did anyway.)

My brother had most of the answers—and if he didn’t, he usually knew where to look for them.

But by ninth grade we all needed a little help.

English Assignment

Alejandra Perez, 11th Grade

Ms. LaFontaine’s Class

MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR

Part 1: My Family

My brother Carlos is the ideal ambassador’s son. He knows how to bow, he can make small talk with foreign diplomats in six different languages, he never passes gas, and he’ll be Secretary General of the United Nations before he turns twenty-five. That is, assuming his little sister can learn how to keep her mouth shut.

“Alejandra, say hello to the Prime Minister of Denmark.”

“Why?”

I don’t mean to suggest that I disliked the Prime Minister of Denmark, or any of his policies for that matter. I was five. I would have answered with the same “Why?” had I been told “Abuela is taking you to see the elephants,” “It isn’t polite to talk about Tía Maria’s mustache,” and “Don’t flush until you wipe.” You really couldn’t take me anywhere.

But thanks to my best friend Clint (a Secret Service agent who managed to carry an assault weapon and understand children at the same time), I learned early on that I could always find a welcome at the Georgetown Public Library. Every Saturday morning, Clint walked me through the cavernous reading room to the much cozier children’s corner, which we weren’t allowed to leave until I had at least three books under my arm. One of them turned out to be The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida. That was a mistake. A big mistake. In it I met a little girl named Emi, who lived on the West Coast in 1942. For some reason, all of the kids who were partly Japanese and partly American had to leave their homes and go into prison camps with barbed wire and guns, and that meant that Emi had to say good-bye to her best friend Laurie. So Laurie gave her a friendship bracelet to make sure they’d remember each other until Emi could come home again. I got as far as the part where Emi lost the bracelet at camp and was afraid it meant that Laurie was going to forget about her before I burst into tears and had to be calmed down by Mamita’s maid and three of Papa’s most devoted chargés d’affaires. Who makes up a story like that for a child?? It was only at dinnertime that Consistently Correct Carlos admitted that ...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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 Al. She s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Al 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. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780142413432

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