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

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

4.8 27
by Steve Kluger
     
 

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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.

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Ward
My Most Excellent Year is funny, affecting, smart and surprising, too: There are bit parts here for Julie Andrews and the Manzanar National Historic Site. And when the whole hodgepodge cast is assembled for the climactic moment, it's as good as a Broadway curtain call—or a neighborhood outing to Fenway.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Three teens complete an English assignment detailing their "most excellent year" in this big, warmhearted tale about musical theater, political organizing, baseball, friendship and love. Tony Conigliaro Keller (named like everyone in his family for a Boston Red Sox player) and Augie Hwong have been self-declared brothers since age six, when T.C.'s mother died. Entering high school, everyone but Augie knows that Augie is gay, which finally dawns on him when he falls for another student. Meanwhile, T.C. develops an intense crush on the novel's third essayist, Alé Perez, daughter of a Mexican diplomat now teaching at Harvard. While T.C. and his father share a baseball obsession, Augie and Alé get close when both are cast in Kiss Me, Kate. The essay segments are spliced with diary entries (T.C.'s are addressed to his mother, Alé's to Jacqueline Kennedy); e-mails from and between parents, teachers and Alé's former Secret Service agent; reprints of Augie's mother's hilariously excoriating theater reviews; transcripts of IM sessions. The characters are a little too good to be true, and there's a distracting and improbable subplot about a deaf motherless child obsessed with Mary Poppins. The protagonists sometimes sound more like 40-year-olds than teens; however, the results are unexpectedly positive, opening up the audience to adults as well as the target reader. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)

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Horn Book
Kluger's easy-breezy and thoroughly absorbing novel channels the hearts, heads, and hormones of three high school students.

Children's Literature - Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
Ms. LaFontaine assigns the students in her 11th grade class to write about "My Most Excellent Year," and T.C. Keller, Augie Hwong, and Alejandra Perez more than meet the challenge. We flash back to join them in their journey through high school, from freshman year to their moment as "practically seniors." Through assignments, instant messages, emails, journals, and other autobiographical glimpses, we experience the joys and sorrows of love, friendship, heartbreak, and loss through their eyes. The voices of the three main characters, as well as the supporting cast that surrounds them, are clear and compelling. T.C. is struggling to come to terms with his mother's death and reaches out to help a young orphan. Augie is trying to understand his feelings and how to fit into a world that might not accept his way of loving. Alejandra does not feel she belongs in her family's world or in the future they have projected for her. As their lives converge, these three adolescents find what is best in each other, themselves, and the world around them. Some of the subject matter is serious, but Kluger has a light touch and the characters (and readers) never lose hope. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
KLIATT
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.

Charming, complex, with three enormously talented narrators plus many other fully realized characters. The format is challenging: each narrator writes letters to dead heroes (e.g., Ale writes to Jacqueline Kennedy) in which intimate feelings are revealed; the friends communicate by e-mail and by text message, and there is generally a lot going on, let’s say. It is a school year in which Augie and TC, who have known each other as best friends since they were six, become friends with the talented and beautiful Ale, a new student, and all three discover their own dreams. Ale (Alejandra) is the daughter of sophisticated diplomats who discovers how much she wants to pursue a career as a performer. It’s Augie, the talented director of the school musical, who gives her the place to find this out about herself. TC, brilliant and something of a slacker, gets focused and does better in school, falling in love and trying to keep up with Ale. Everyone has known that Augie is gay and when he finally falls in love with another boy and acknowledges this about himself, everyone, including his parents, is delighted for him. It would be just another inventive school story except for the presence of Hucky--an amazingly endearing six-year-old orphan who is deaf. TC and Hucky meet because of baseball and their shared love of the Red Sox. TC’s mother died when he was six, so he is very sensitive to the needs of such a devastated child. TC learns sign language so he can communicate with Hucky, and there is a whole story here about their bringing Hucky into their family. This is a sophisticated story that will especially entertain smart readers who can intellectually and socially keepup with these memorable characters and their quick minds. Of course, those who love the city of Boston will enjoy the setting and Kluger’s familiarity with it. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

School Library Journal

Gr 8-11- Three bright and funny Brookline, MA, eleventh graders look back on their most excellent year-ninth grade-for a school report. Told in alternating chapters by each of them, this enchanting, life-affirming coming-of-age story unfolds through instant messages, emails, memos, diary entries, and letters to celebrity divas and to a deceased mom. T.C. (Anthony Conigliaro) Keller, whose mother died when he was six, is in love with baseball and Alejandra (Alé) Perez. She and Augie Hwong, who is gay and in love with Andy Wexler, are passionate about the stage and screen, and Augie and T.C. have been "brothers" since they were six. The teens mount a fabulous talent show, launch a couple of grassrooots political movements, and bring hope and love to a deaf, six-year-old foster child. What's more, Augie and T.C. have a refreshingly positive relationship with their parents. Similar in storytelling style to Kate Klise's classic Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks (Avon, 1998), this is a rich and humorous novel for older readers. The teen and adult characters are quirky and charming, and their adventures are involving without being over-the-top. A fun, feel-good story with star quality.-Sharon Senser McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
How many novels have such a cast of characters: A Red Sox addict who writes letters to his dead mother; his gay American-born Chinese "brother"; a love interest whose role model is Jacqueline Kennedy and who's the daughter of the ambassador to Mexico; a young boy who thinks Mary Poppins is real; and a father romancing his son's school adviser? Kluger's foray into young-adult literature does, and it all works wonderfully in a modern-day tale of baseball, romance, Broadway musicals and even baseball at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Written in letters, instant messages, school assignments and e-mails, this romantic comedy is pure fun. T.C., Augie, Alejandra, Andy and others find that romance means learning to see with new eyes and becoming new under the influence of magic in the world. The many characters are well-drawn and believable, and readers will care about them. The innovative format works well in relating the multiple love stories, and the story ought to appeal to a wide range of readers. (Fiction. 12+)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780142413432
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
02/19/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
168,237
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 8.12(h) x 1.11(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

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.”

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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 the Japanese American internment was, in fact, one of the less fortunate chapters in our history, and that there really might have been an Emi after all. I was furious. And that was before anybody had told me about the Freedom Riders.

Naturally there were bound to be a few conflicts with Papa, Mamita, and Forever Flawless Carlos. The family business depended on tact and diplomacy, and meanwhile they were raising a ten-year-old activist who could find a social issue in a box of Kleenex. After I’d told the Korean ambassador that I had little use for either half of military Korea but at least the south knew how to say “May I?” before they shot you, I was persona non grata all along Embassy Row. And since I’d obviously become a disappointment to every one of my relatives, I compensated the only way I knew how: straight A’s, Honors English, Honors Math, and first prize in two national creative writing competitions. I decided that if I had to join the diplomatic corps sooner or later, at least I’d have the academic credentials for it—and all I’d need to learn in the meantime was how to stop talking. But two things happened back to back that turned my plans inside out.

The first was an accident. I’d been sent home from school with the flu, and Clint was so determined to cheer me up that he went DVD-shopping to find an extra-special movie that might take my mind off the fact that I was never going to eat again. What resulted was a copy of Damn Yankees, which was either a lucky choice or a deliberate move by Clint to start a civil war in my own family. Until I recovered enough to return to class, I was glued to the television screen watching Gwen Verdon dance a tango and a mambo again and again until I could match her step for step. And except for the vomiting, I’d completely forgotten that I was supposed to be sick.

Less than a month after that, Papa had business at the United Nations, so we found ourselves in New York at the Broadhurst Theatre for a performance of a musical called Fosse—where, for two and a half hours, the most beautiful men and women imaginable used their bodies to create sheer magic. By the time the curtain had come down, my eyes were wet and I was absolutely certain I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I also knew that I’d need to be re-born to different parents first. (Proof: Papa thought the show was “mildly diverting,” Mamita wished that the boys had worn more clothing, and Utterly Unassailable Carlos—eighteen at the time—missed the whole thing when he ran into the only Argentine vice consul on West Forty-fourth Street and spent both acts in the lobby, chatting him up about tin and copper deposits outside of Buenos Aires.) Faced with the prospect of bringing shame to my very visible family, I was convinced that I could keep myself from even thinking of becoming a dancer just as long as Papa never retired as ambassador to Mexico—something that certainly wasn’t going to happen in my lifetime.

So naturally Papa retired as ambassador to Mexico when I was fourteen because Harvard University’s history department made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. We sold the houses in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., emancipated all of the serfs, and moved into one of the loveliest homes in Brookline, Massachusetts. The rest of that summer was taken up with visiting the museums, walking the Freedom Trail, learning how to ride the T, and trying to figure out what these people saw in the Boston Red Sox. (I discovered no rational clue. Perhaps it’s viral.)

I didn’t realize what Papa and Mamita had done to me until right after Labor Day, when I found myself sitting in the third row of a ninth-grade public school classroom filled with thirty-five chattering kids I’d never seen before in my life, but who all seemed to have known each other from the womb. And just kids. No nannies, no bodyguards, no heads of state, no dinners with Chelsea Clinton or Tobey Maguire, and no one who wouldn’t think you were a stuck-up pain in the ass if you mentioned either one of them. I was terrified. There was one boy in particular who always wore blue and white sneakers, easy-fit jeans, and gray T-shirts (half of them unraveling so badly he could have played The Mummy). He spoke with such an unseemly Boston accent that you were lucky to catch every fourth word, he tried to be cool by pretending he didn’t know how cool he was, and his bangs looked like brown flax woven on a loom.

His name was Anthony and I detested him. I even told him so—and assumed he believed me.

I didn’t know it then, but my clock was running out fast for a lot of things. Especially since my much-loved Gwen Verdon had recently passed away, and there was nobody in the wings to replace her.

Yet.

Diary

T.C. Keller, 9th Grade

Mrs. Norwood’s Class

INSTRUCTIONS: While we’re studying Anne Frank, try to remember that a diary isn’t just a book with blank pages. It’s a place where you can put down all of the thoughts and feelings that nobody else knows you have. Anne Frank called hers “Dear Kitty.” So think carefully before you give your own diary a name.

Dear Mama,

Pop and Nehi and I go to visit you all the time with flowers, but there’s a lot of things we don’t have time to tell you while we’re sitting on the ground. These are some of them.

1.   I’m getting a B+ in everything except for the A in algebra, which is the way I like it to square out. Pop always says you should never pretend to be something you’re not, and I don’t want to be a know-it-all gink who thinks he’s better than anybody else. Besides, Pop got a B+ in everything except for an A in algebra too.

2.   Right after you left, me and Pop started building a model of Fenway Park in the basement. And you know how Pop is when he gets started on projects like these. One time we had an assignment at school on the solar system and all I had to draw over the weekend was Jupiter. But when Pop found out about it he made me a planetarium from an old crate, a motor, and nine cut-up bicycle spokes with different-sized rubber balls on the ends of them that we painted to look like planets. They spun around a yellow lightbulb sun and had all of the constellations in the sky behind them except for Ursa Minor because we ran out of stars. Lori Mahoney is my adviser, and she was a little pissed off that we got carried away, but not as pissed off as the time our homework just said to list the ten biggest cities in the state. It took two people to carry the map Pop built down the hallway.

So the only reason the model of Fenway Park is twelve feet long is because there wasn’t any more room in the basement than that. It took us two years to finish, but it has the Citgo sign behind it and all 33,871 seats inside. Pop said, “Tony C, where are we going to find the right color green for the walls?” and I said, “Maybe we could puke on them,” and he said, “You have your mother’s sense of humor.” Then when it was all done, we opened our old scorecards to find our ticket stubs and we painted each of the seats that we ever sat in. Bluish green for the ones that just me and Pop had, sparkly silver for the ones we bought when you were with us too, and gold for the two that you and Pop were sitting in when you first met each other.

3.   When they decided that they weren’t going to tear down the ballpark after all, Pop and I had to give up our “Save Fenway Park” website and our hotline and our T-shirts. We used to stand at different corners on Yawkey Way and Kenmore Square, hand out flyers to people, get them to sign petitions, and make them call all of the Red Sox phone numbers so many times that nobody could get through to buy tickets. Pop always says, “Tony C, the best thing Mama ever taught me was how to be a pain in the ass. That’s how I got my own company instead of just being somebody else’s carpenter.” Mama, it worked this time too. I mean, they stopped talking about tearing down Fenway Park, didn’t they?

4.   But we missed being troublemakers, so Pop told me I could be in charge of the next crusade. So I picked Buck Weaver. He was one of the eight Black Sox who got banned from baseball for cheating in the 1919 World Series—except that he didn’t do it. The other seven guys asked him if he would throw games with them, but he called them hosers and said “Count me out.” And they busted him anyway for not squealing on his team. What’s up with that? But that’s all going to change once I get 20,000 signatures on my “Free Buck Weaver” website.

5.   I wish you’d known Augie while you were still here—but come to think of it, if you were still here I wouldn’t have needed him so much. We play soccer together in the fall, we’re both forwards, and the other team hates it when we get the ball because they know it’s already over. We pass it back and forth to each other so many times that they get mixed up, and all of a sudden the ball is in the net. We never practice who’s going to make the kick—we just know when it’s the right time.

I’m five weeks older than Augie is but he’s a lot smarter than I am, except that he doesn’t know he’s gay yet. I don’t see how he couldn’t. I guess he figures that because he loves women like Audrey Hepburn and Judi Dench so much, he’s automatically going to wind up with one. (Shh. What he really loves is their clothes.) But Augie is the best at everything he does and I’m betting that once he puts 2+2 together, he’ll have a steady boyfriend before I even get this new girl Alejandra to think about kissing me. Of course, once in a while he gets called things like “fag,” and since we’re brothers, sometimes I do too. But the kids who say it usually aren’t around for very long. Besides, I found out that when girls think you might be gay, you turn into a chick magnet on the spot. It’s like they can’t help themselves—even the ones who tried to smack your face off in fifth grade when you hit on them. So I go with the flow. I’m easy that way.

6.   Remember how you told Pop that if he didn’t get married again you would kick his ass? Because I think he finally got the hint. Last month, he wrote an ad for the Internet and I got to help. “49 y/o SWM, 6′2″, athletic, with irresistible son who owns a Carlton Fisk rookie card, seeks intelligent, romantic woman for long walks, long talks, and candlelit moments.” Even though the candlelight part made me and Augie gag, he started getting answers right away. The first girl he went out with was a blond grad student who didn’t tell us until she got there that her diploma was for witchcraft. So Nehi and I stayed awake until Pop got home, and while he was brushing his teeth I asked him things like “When she spilled her water, did she melt?” and “Was your waiter a scarecrow?” and “Did she land on the roof and throw fireballs?” Pop sprayed me with a can of Right Guard and I stunk for three days.

7. Even though I’m almost fifteen, I’m getting tall fast. You probably wouldn’t even recognize me anymore. But I still remember what your voice sounds like.

Love,

Your son,

T.C.

Dear Mama,

Pop says he knew you were already falling in love with him after the first two hours because you held on to his arm when Bucky F. Dent hit the home run. But I remember when you would tuck me in and tell me the same story, you always said it was the other way around and that Pop kept sending you snapdragons so you would call him back. I used to think that somebody was making up their half of it until I started to fall in love. Then I found out how complicated it really is.

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 RELATION-SHIP 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.”

She calls Mrs. Norwood “ma’am,” she turns in her quiz papers first, she didn’t laugh when Stu Merliss farted in the middle of factoring x2-y2, and her father knows the Queen of England. Big zow. Any poser can say that. But when Mrs. Fitzpatrick introduced her to the class and asked her who the most famous person she ever met was, she didn’t say the Prince of Wales, she said Hilary Duff. By lunchtime, all the other girls were afraid of her and the boys were conferencing on their cell phones in study hall to figure out who was going to make the first move. Andy Wexler won. It was too late for me to come up with a new game plan and even my Benedict Arnold of a brother wasn’t going to be any help. Why? BECAUSE HE WAS THE ONE SHE WAS HAVING LUNCH WITH!!

INSTANT MESSENGER

AugieHwong: Between homeroom and algebra I grew another armpit hair. That makes 9. Do you still only have 6?

TCKeller: Like I would have told the Boston Globe first?

AugieHwong: Don’t worry. I’m trying to slide you into the conversation.
Meanwhile, there’s something else you should know. Andy Wexler asked me to work on his soccer moves with him after he makes his play for Alé. Are you still speaking to me?

TCKeller: No. Not now. Not ever.

But it was the picture of you and Robert F. Kennedy at the rally in 1967 that really got me into hot water. Pop hung it on the wall next to my bed when I was seven, and because I liked the way RFK’s eyes squinted while he was smiling at you, I read an old kids’ book called Meet Senator Kennedy. Now I know everything there is to know about him, from the Freedom Riders to his blue ties. That’s why I signed up for the Young Democrats Club at school, and Alé joining right before me didn’t hurt either. So when she picked President JFK as the most important American who ever lived, Pop said it meant we had something in common. He also said she might need to know who was the brains in that family and who wasn’t. But he left it up to me to choose my own arguments.

Yeah. That was like a really good idea. Alé called me an empty-headed buffalo and walked to science class with Andy Wexler.

Mama, I wish you could have stayed with us long enough to teach me about girls. Pop is clueless.

I love you,

T.C.

NAME: T.C. Keller      CLASS: Mrs. Fitzpatrick     

ALGEBRA QUIZ

QUESTION: Factor x2-y2

ANSWER: x2-y2= (x+y) (x-y)

However, I have some questions too. What do I need this in my life for? Am I going to get a job in an XY factory? Am I going to go to work at Ben & Jerry’s selling XY ice cream cones? No. My dad and I are going to build houses and offices buildings, but out of bricks and glass, not out of X and Y. Right?

   T.C.: Please see me after 6th period about this.—Lori

Dear Mama,

Up until this year, I could always turn a B− into a B or a C into a C+ just by throwing the enemy off the scent. (QUESTION: What is the significance of December 1? ANSWER: 1955. Rosa Parks said no when they told her to stand up in the bus. Then civil rights happened. In 1949 the Sox got Al Papai from the Browns. He once tripped over the chalk line on his way off the field. We’d have been better off with Rosa Parks.) And they’d always fall for it. At the bottom it would say things like “T.C., a little more history and a little less Red Sox, please” or “T.C., thanks for the travelogue,” and the grade at the top was usually five points higher than it should have been. But not this time. “T.C.: Please see me after 6th period about this.” Not even from my teacher, but from my adviser. Notice how she couldn’t have said “See me at lunch” or given me a hint about how deep a hole I was in. No. That isn’t the way it works. You have to suffer first. Like I don’t have enough things on my mind.

English notes: Puck blew a few sparks in his hard drive and zapped the wrong guy by mistake. Alé’s hair is long and black and falls down across her back like it doesn’t even care.

History notes: We fought the British again in the War of 1812. Nobody knows why. Maybe a battle during the Revolution got rained out and this was their makeup game. I need Alé to wear the light yellow dress with the red and pink flowers on it again. It makes her skin look like an oil painting.

Science notes: The telegraph got invented. Alé sneezed. So I sneezed back. She didn’t even look over her shoulder, even though she had to know it was me. Alexander Graham Bell discovered the telephone. His first words to Mr. Watson on the other end were “T.C.: Please see me after 6th period about this.” Then it was the end of 6th period.

The way to Lori’s office is down a green hall with lockers on both sides. Not even posters of Halloween Week or anything else that has color in it. No. Just green. Dark green. It’s a long hall anyway, but it was even longer today.

INSTANT MESSENGER

TCKeller: If I don’t come back alive, cut me out in little stars and I will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will fall in love with night and pay no attention to the garish sun.

AugieHwong: Olivia DeHavilland said it better in Gone With the Wind. “Take care of my Ashley, Scarlett.” Less is more, Tick.

Lori was already standing in the doorway with that kind of a smile on her face that people always have when they’re going to ruin a kid’s life.

“T.C.?” she began. Translation: Any last words? If she was anybody else, I might have noticed her light brown hair and the way the bottom half of her dress swishes just the right way when she walks. But I didn’t. Instead, I came up with a sudden-death play before it was too late.

“Um—boys’ room,” I said while I was bending over so it’d look real. “Be right back.” Then I ran for it.

I didn’t really have to go, but it was the only chance I had. Once the lav door closed all the way behind me, I hid in a stall and flipped open my cell phone. When Pop’s at work, the only calls he takes are mine.

“Tony C?”

“Why do I need algebra in my life?”

“It teaches you how to solve problems and weigh variables and factor out the crap. But you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Got it in the back pocket. Peace out, dude.”

After that I put my cell phone away and peed for good luck. I was untouchable.

STUDENT/ADVISER CONFERENCE

Lori Mahoney/Anthony C. Keller

A long time ago I never thought I was going to like school the way you said I would. Because after you left, I didn’t even know how to get kids to talk to me anymore. I remember being in first grade and doing weird things like wearing my shirts backwards or drawing Saturn on my arms just to see if anybody would ask me how come. But nobody ever did. Some of the guys instead wore their shirts backwards too like they were making fun of me, so I pretended I didn’t notice and waited to cry until I got home. I told Pop it was because I was still sad.

When we were seven and pretending we were knights, Augie killed a dragon to save my life. But if you were still here he wouldn’t have had to.

I love you,

T.C.

LAURENTS SCHOOL

BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS

VIA E-MAIL

Dear Ted:

Please. You’ve got to stop bailing Anthony out of a leaky skiff. “It teaches me how to weigh variables.” Did he call you on his cell or are you hot-wired directly into his head?

While we’re here, I need to warn you that their first out-of-class projects are going to be assigned in three weeks. They’re studying the history of the nation’s capital and they’ll be asked to build models of their favorite landmarks. Let’s not have a replay of fourth grade. A 200-foot Washington Monument that lights up in eighteen different colors won’t be greeted with a sense of humor.

Know what? I’m in charge of 91 kids, and you’re the biggest discipline problem I’ve got.

Lori

KELLER CONSTRUCTION

BOSTON • GLOUCESTER • WALTHAM

ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

Dear Lori:

First of all, how do you know he doesn’t have a crush on you? Maybe the B+ thing is a way to guarantee that you’ll call him into your office at least once a month for a one-on-one. When you think about it, it’s a pretty provocative ruse for a kid.

Second of all, Tony C did all of the work on the planetarium and the map. I just helped out with the odd jobs like hammering, nailing, building motors, and painting. Period.

Third of all, if you’d finally agree to go out with me, I wouldn’t have to subvert the entire school system just to get you to send me notes. Like father, like son. And I’m only half kidding. This is the first time since Nikki died that I’ve found someone who might actually be able to coax me back onto the field of play. So you’d better think about it unless you want a life-sized replica of the Iwo Jima statue (in bronze).

Ted

P.S. Besides, we’ve had one date already. So it’s out there.

LAURENTS SCHOOL

BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS

VIA E-MAIL

Dear Ted:

What’s out there?? That wasn’t a date, it was a chance encounter at Starbucks. And I paid for both Fraps.

Anthony doesn’t have a crush on me and you know it. He idolizes his father, who—improbably—earned a B.A. from B.U. with a B+. But that was 1974. It’s 2003. “A” is the new “B+.”

I’m not going out with you because I’m your son’s adviser. But if I weren’t, I might. Unless you were serious about the statue. Then you’d be out of luck.

—The Field of Play

KELLER CONSTRUCTION

BOSTON • GLOUCESTER • WALTHAM

ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

Dear F.O.P.:

Don’t worry about Tony C. He knows how to go for the gold when it’s time. So does his dad.

TK

www.augiehwong.com

Diary

Augie Hwong, 9th Grade

Mrs. Norwood’s Class

Dear Liza with a Z,

I can’t believe you married David Gest and didn’t check with me first. All he wanted was your money and to find out if your mother sang “Over the Rainbow” when she put you to bed so he could tell his tacky friends about it. Trust me. David Gest is a gink. But you can still call me after the divorce if you need to borrow my shoulder. I’d never say “I told you so” to anybody except Nicole Kidman.

Incidentally, I know I have a big mouth—but why the hell did they pick me to direct the talent show?

INSTANT MESSENGER

AugieHwong: I’m having an anxiety attack.

TCKeller: Is it a new one? ’Cause I’m working on my diary.

AugieHwong: Tick, it’s happening too quick, that’s what scares me. How did I get to be an A-list director already?? Where’s all the torture you’re supposed to go through before you click? And the hard knocks? And the setbacks you’re supposed to learn from? I haven’t suffered enough yet.

TCKeller: Dude, it’s just a talent show!

My brother is enjoying this too much. He’s been waiting for the axe to drop ever since I found out that third grade wasn’t ready for my impression of Bette Davis in the Holy Grail of movies, All About Eve (“Why, Max—you sly puss!”). He also grew two more pit hairs during homeroom, so he’s finally broken ten, and now he thinks he’s bulletproof. That’s the last time I let him make more kicks than me in soccer so that people won’t guess who really rocks.

Okay. Maybe I’ll cave in after all. I don’t like making people beg. But I told Mrs. Fitzpatrick I’d only sign a contract if she agreed to my terms.

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