Who would have thought that freshman year would include singing your heart out in front of disapproving parents, sneaking onto a train to meet Julie Andrews, or teaching half of the town American Sign Language? Yet that’s exactly what happens to T.C., Alejandra, and Augie. The two boys have been friends since they were six, and have long ago declared themselves brothers. Ale is a new factor, the daughter of a diplomat who has recently moved into town and isn’t quite sure how to navigate the expectations of her family or the expectations of other teenagers. Added to the mix is a young Deaf boy who seems to have an odd fascination with T.C. and Mary Poppins. Over the course of the year are endless surprises – Augie comes out (this is a surprise only to himself), Ale finds both unexpected talent and unexpected support, and T.C. must grapple with the pitfalls of awkward first love and trying to negotiate a relationship with a little kid whose life has already been marked by loss.
If the teens in the book are sometimes a little too subtle in their interactions, that can certainly be forgiven, particularly considering the many strengths of the book. For one thing, it is hilariously funny. I laughed out loud numerous times, and had several people who were in the room with me write down the title of the book to read later, since I was so obviously having a good time reading it. The humor was the type I enjoy the most, that which stems from characters and their relationships, rather than simply snarky comments (which are fun too, but rarely make one laugh aloud.)
I’m a little torn about Augie. I would have said he was a walking stereotype if the author had not been so clearly sympathetic to the character. The relationship between Augie and Andy was done very well, particularly the tension between them that comes from Augie’s flamboyant behavior, versus Andy’s adherence to more traditional gender roles. I liked that Augie’s sexual orientation was such a non-issue for almost everyone, from teachers to parents to Augie’s student peers. While it’s not an attitude that is entirely realistic – at no point does the book mention that Augie or Andy are harassed, and while I would love to believe otherwise, I doubt there are many (any?) high schools so completely accepting – it’s also refreshing to see sexual orientation as just another minor bump in the adolescent experience. For Augie realizing he’s gay is far less fraught than trying to weather the roller coaster ride of his first crush.
Notes on the Cover: Once the book has been read, the cover makes complete sense. T.C. loves the Red Sox, and meets Hucky during a baseball game, hence the baseball bat. And Hucky is obsessed with Mary Poppins, which explains the umbrella. But before I read the book the cover just didn’t move me. I’d heard good things about it, but it took a fervent recommendation from my sister before I finally picked it up, which suggests that the cover just wasn’t doing it for me. However, I can’t think of any better, so …