- My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
- The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher
I'll start with My Most Excellent Year as I read it first.
This is the story of three kids: TC Keller, Augie Hwong and Alejandra Perez. When they're assigned to write about their most excellent year, they all agreed it was ninth grade. That was the year TC fell head over heels for Alè. The year Augie slowly realised he was also falling in love, but with a boy. The year Alé moved to a public school for the first time in her life and felt terrified. The year she decided to detest TC wholeheartedly.
Their story is told in alternating perspectives, mainly through diary's entries directed toward their chosen confidants. For TC it's his mother, for Augie is the Diva of the Week, and for Alé is Jacqueline Kennedy. But the book is also filled with instant messaging, e-mails and letters written to each other, or even by their parents and friends.
So what is it about really? A lot of things. Love, first of all. Family, in the broadest sense. Friendship, the kind that last forever. Baseball, especially the Red Sox. Musicals and divas thanks to Augie. Politics thanks to Alé. And Magic, in the form of a little deaf kid who believes in Mary Poppins, and who nobody dares to convince otherwise.
What I liked: The characterisation, first of all, was top class. TC, Augie, Alè, but also Hucky the deaf kid, were all unforgettable. I love the concept of extended family that TC and Augie establish with each other. They both decided when they were 8 that they were brothers, and that was it. Slowly the parents realised it was a serious matter and they just accepted it. So now Augie's parents are Mom and Dad, while TC's father is Pop, for both of them!
The writing was great, too. I giggled all my way through the end.
The romance, oh the romance...Of course I'm talking about Augie and Angie. Maybe I don't read much YA gay romance between boys, but I thought this was the sweetest, most romantic, most adorable, most everything boy-on-boy literary love. The way their family and friends reacted was even cooler. They knew all along Augie was gay and they were wondering how long it would take him to figure it out.
I probably felt closer to him than to any of the other characters because he's so into divas and musical. At his age, I was too. Maybe not that obsessively, but close enough. I used to write my diary to Audrey Hepburn, you know...
But I really did love all the others too. Alé is the main female character and she kicks ass. At first she probably sounds too stuck up and posh, but she redeems herself. She's smart, feminist and stubborn, so you have to love her. TC is just too irresistible. His relationship with the little kid, Hucky, is what won me over indefinitely. He would literally go to the moon and back, just to make Hucky happy. He tries harder than anyone else, and in the end, it pays off.
Finally, I thought the format worked really well. The letters, e-mails and texts made the story sparkle. It wasn't confusing or irritating at all. It actually made the book flow easily and it made me feel even closer to the characters.
It was a positive, happy, funny, romantic, original book that I'd love to reread one day.
What I didn't like:
Very little. I'm not the hugest baseball fun, so most of the references were lost on me. I have to thank all the baseball movies I watched when I was little, because I wasn't completely lost. If I managed to survive it, I think anybody can.
It was also very American. But it's not a flaw, it's just that I am not.
It was a happy book, mainly, but you could say that the way homosexuality was handled in High School was a bit too accepting, to be completely true. I wish it was that easy. Not that I didn't like it, I was delighted. Hopefully, the kids who will read it will take notice and take it as an example.
Last minor thingy: the writing style was amazingly good, but it was a bit too homogeneous. There wasn't much difference in how the kids talked and their parents. I liked it, but again, not too realistic.
Now for The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher.
Alice is a teenager girl, who feels like she is nobody at school. She's not in the popular crowd, and not even in the weird/outcast one. She's just a normal girl. But instead of keeping a journal, she talks to her poster, Le Visage de la Paix by Picasso. She tells her poster that she would like a normal date for the upcoming Halloween dance. She would like someone to hold hands with, kiss, dance, like everyone else.
But she feels too invisible to attract the attention of the boy she really would like to date: Simon.
Her best friend Jewel is the closest person she has. They talk about everything, but she knows she can't tell him about her crush. Because Simon is a football player, he's with the popular crowd, and Jewel despises them.
You know the saying "beware of what you wish for..."? That would apply to Alice exactly. Simon, the boy of her dreams, starts showing her he's interested in knowing her more. And at the same time Jewel starts acting weird around her, hugging her and looking at her differently. Suddenly she is not that invisible anymore, but is this was she really wanted?
This delicately told story, is not just about finding love. It's about understanding where we fit in, what we can do in life. About the satisfying and liberating act of creativity. It's also about the fine line between friendship and something else. And about the meaningless labels that people are given and that never truly describe what the person is really like.
What I liked: The realistic dialogues and situations. They were sometimes awkward and monosyllabic, but real. I liked the role of art, the way Alice finds a piece of world where to express herself, and just be her. The sense of calm and of dreaminess that sometimes the writing evoked.
What I didn't like: The premises and the development of the story. They were real, they belong to the teenage world and I appreciate that. But it didn't give me anything new. I wasn't amazed by it, I'm afraid. The writing was quiet, maybe too much. I wasn't drawn to the story that much, and although it was quite a slim book, it took me few days to finish it.
It just wasn't the style I was in the mood for.
How the two compared to each other: I was hoping for a very touch decision to make, but unfortunately it didn't happen. My Most Excellent Year was full of wonderful characters, a story that grabbed me and swept me off my feet. It was extremely funny and original. Heartwarming and magical. The Opposite of Invisible was sort of underwhelming compared to it. Very quiet, calm like the dove girl poster. Sort of low-key. It didn't have the "wow factor" like Kluger's novel. Maybe it's not fair to compare a first novel with the one of an experience writer. But that's how things were, so I'm declaring, officially...My Most Excellent Year as the winner of this round.
If you're curious and interested about the book you should totally have a look at its website. It's really really cool and it has lots of extracts from the book, so you can judge yourself.
It's called The Augie Hwong's Homepage.
And you should visit Liz Gallagher's page too. There's some pictures of the places mentioned in the book, which is set in Seattle. It definitely helped to visualize the story, so recommended!
This was great fun, I can't wait to read all the other judges' decisions!
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