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Quick, help! I’m not usually a big Halloween costume person, but I’m working at the library on the 31st and have been asked to wear one (they’d better put me on the desk if I do!) Any ideas for something simple and recognizable – and easy to work in?
On to the books. So many books! First, let’s talk about eery similarities between two books I finished recently: Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park and Marc Acito’s How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater. Yeah. You don’t need to look any further than the titles, really. Both stories have a lot of musical theater. Humor. High school friends. Hijinks. Characters realizing they’re gay. Appearances by musical celebrities. And both are written as assignments for English class. But here’s where they part ways. My Most Excellent Year is a novel of love – romantic, yes, but also familial. These are characters who genuinely love and (for the most part) get along with their families. They take in people, and treat their friends like brothers. Parents talk to – and understand – their children, and vice versa. Book-long romances culminate in simple kisses. The relationships, however improbably, survive high school. How I Paid for College is a novel of sex. And almost-sex, and sex faked for blackmail purposes. There’s some romance, sure, but that’s not the focus. The characters are going off to college and don’t really get emotionally entangled. It’s not trying to be sweet and romantic, and the off-to-college thing is more realistic, but in the end the book really doesn’t have a heart. Just a lot of laughs. My Most Excellent Year has both – give it a try.
(My Most Excellent Year is also one of the titles for this year’s Mock Printz – and given how much I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read so far, this will be a tough year for voting. I’ll be curious to hear how other people react, and how that sways my vote. Between this, Little Brother, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks…it’ll be tough. Side note – why on earth isn’t Octavian Nothing on the list? Don’t worry – I have a whole Octavian post to write sooner or later.)
Both books, though – I blame both of them for all the show tunes stuck in my head. A sad after-effect of my own years of musical theater. I remember a frightening number of lyrics from Kiss Me Kate, as it turns out. I also have this picture from the high school yearbook, recently sent to me by a former classmate. Go ahead and laugh. I am. I’m just to the left of Michael – I mean Bill.
I’ve (inadvertantly, but this is what happens when you read a lot of YA) been reading a bunch of stories dealing with high school life lately.
rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of those books that takes a good hard look at what it’s like to be in high school. Although the story focuses on two girls at extreme ends of the weight spectrum, with the perspective shifting between them, it really captures all those timeless struggles of the high school student. Although eating disorders obviously play a role in the story, it never feels like an after school special, and the focus is not on whether the girls will change their eating habits, but on whether they will figure out how to be friends. Finely written and a quick read.
rating: 3 of 5 stars
A very enjoyable example of a realistic teen novel – probably with a girl audience. It’s realistic without being too gritty – you know things will work out well in the end, even though there’s a little heartbreak along the way. Macy is recovering – or not recovering – from her father’s sudden death a year before. It’s not until she makes a new group of friends through a summer job that she realizes how much she’s restricted herself in an attempt to try to be what her mother wants. The developing friendships with her coworkers are at the heart of the story – including, of course, a developing romance. But Macy and her sister also work through some things with their workaholic mother, and with how they will remember their father. Part funny, part sweet, this is an engrossing but not too challenging read. Probably appropriate for middle school up. There’s some drinking at parties, but the romance is positively chaste.
Finally, I’m listening to How I Paid for College by Marc Acito – which falls more into the slightly hysterical and absurd category of high school stories. The deadpan delivery is great, but although the characters are often immature, this one is the most, um, “mature” in content.
End result? As always, I’m glad high school is long gone. I can muster a bit more nostalgia for my undergrad days, but I don’t see as many books about college as I do about HS. Hmm…