Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YotH Review: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

I planned to read and review a historical romance for my first Year of the Historical Challenge review. However, after reading Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, I decided that since a book set in World War II qualifies by KMont's rules, this was going to be my review for this Challenge. The genre is a bit of a mixed bag, I've seen it tagged as YA, Literary Fiction, Sports Fiction, World War II, Men's Fiction, and well... you decide. I prefer to think of it as Fiction with Historical elements and think it deserves to be widely read. So here it is, my first YotH review.


Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis, neighborhood punching bag, growing up goofy and mostly fatherless in Brooklyn in the early 1940s. A boy looking for a hero, Joey decides to latch on to Charlie Banks, the all-star third baseman for the New York Giants. But Joey's chosen champion doesn't exactly welcome the extreme attention of a persistent young fan with an overactive imagination. Then again, this strange, needy kid might be exactly what Banks needs.
I loved the first book I read by Steve Kluger, Almost Like Being in Love, and yet Last Days of Summer still managed to surprise me. I don't think I expected to be caught up in the story or the characters in the same way. I was wrong.

Kluger takes us to Brooklyn, New York in 1940 to tell us Joey Margolis' story. He is a 12 year old Jewish boy who having recently moved from Manhattan with his mother and aunt becomes the neighborhood bullies' punching bag. Lacking a father figure in his life, Joey is desperately looking for someone to take that place. He chooses a reluctant Charlie Banks, the new 3rd Baseman for the New York Giants baseball team.

Joey is a smart-mouthed, needy, brilliant little boy who goes to great lengths to get what he wants. His imagination, determination and persistence become legendary throughout the story. Charlie is a baseball player through and through. An uneducated young man who doesn't necessarily make the best first impression, Charlie doesn't seem to be the best choice for hero worship. However, once Joey chooses Charlie he doesn't stand a chance, no matter his reluctance to accept that role. Kluger again uses his favored epistolary style to reveal Joey and Charlie's improbable story of friendship. Through letters, telegrams, report cards, tickets and other means of communication, this beautiful story of friendship and love unfolds as the characters are revealed.

Last Days of Summer accurately details some incredible New York baseball history (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, New York Giants) and other teams as well, but baseball doesn't overwhelm the book. Also, through Charlie and Joey we glimpse the history of the times between 1940 and 1942 and slowly experience how things change and develop throughout the country. Kluger covers the slow escalation of World War II in Europe, Roosevelt's New Deal, Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-American's Relocation Centers in California, and finally our troops in the South Pacific. Although again, as with baseball, history does not overshadow the main story.

Atmosphere is important when setting a book during these times. Kluger achieves this by the usage of language and attitude, as well as by incorporating wonderful details such as: music, Broadway shows, famous personages, and using the names of businesses that were around in 1940's New York.

I laughed quite a bit while reading Joey and Charlie's sharp and witty exchanges and their improbable adventures, although I admit that the content itself pulled some emotional strings at the most unexpected of times -- Joey's Bar Mitzvah was one of the funniest and most emotional events and one of my favorite. There were wonderful secondary characters in this book that made this story work, even though Joey and Charlie were always the main focus. I personally fell in love with Joey's Aunt Carrie and the Rabbi (Rabby).

The end of this book was very emotional for me and quite beautiful in its own way. If you want to know why I was surprised, well... it's because this book is not really about baseball and being a baseball fan that's what I expected. Instead, Last Days of Summer is a beautiful story about a boy who needs, and a man who by answering that need fulfills his own.

Last Days of Summer is a book I couldn't put down once I read the first few pages. That makes two keepers by Mr. Kluger for me. Grade A

Visit Steve Kluger here.

16 comments:

  1. Hils, I loved this review. You bring out the best points perfectly, and I say that of course without having read the book. But you make it sound so familiar. And it sounds like a great book. :)

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  2. I'm definitively going to give this book a try soon :D It sounds great, but I just needed a breather after Almost Like Being in Love and My Most Excellent Year :D

    I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much :)

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  3. Great review, Hils! I'm sold. This sounds like something I would love. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

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  4. Excellent review Hils, just added it to my TBB list.

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  5. Sold! I've been thinking about ordering this one from the library but this after reading your review I just don't want to put it off any longer. Thank you! Great review.

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  6. A lovely review Hils - thank you. I tried to read Almost Like Being in Love, but the epistolary style didn't work for me. Obviously I am going to have to try it again, because this sounds like a lovely book!

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  7. *checks library site* They have it!

    Wonderful review Hils. I think you're becoming Mr. Kluger's biggest fan. :)

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  8. Thanks KMont. I found this book to be a wonderful read. :)

    Nath, I'll be taking a break after this one & leaving the other 2 I have on my TBR to enjoy later too. :) Don't want to overdose on Kluger. LOL!

    Brie, I hope you enjoy it, it's quite the adventure.

    Indi! You'll really like this one... can't wait for your thoughts on Kluger. :)

    Tracy, I know you enjoyed his writing, so I think you'll definitely like this one too. It's a totally different type of story, but it's just as wonderful as ALBiL. Hope you like it!

    Orannia, that epistolary style is not for everyone. This book has a smaller cast of characters and seems tighter. If you give it a try, hope you like it.

    Leslie, LOL! I don't know about the biggest fan, but that's 2 out of 2... he's batting average is pretty high up there for me. *g*

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  9. This author again? Kidding. Love your review. I've never read YA before but as usual your review pulls at me.

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  10. Excellent review, Hilcia. This book sounds really great. My library doesn't carry any of this author's books. I'm so disappointed... I'm thinking of requesting that they purchase some. I will keep looking for this one... and maybe even order it.

    Thanks for the fantastic recommendation.

    Looks like I gotta get myself in gear and write a review for this YoH challenge. Haven't written one in months... I think I forgot how! ;)

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  11. LOL Tabz, I promise a break... well, at least until I decide to read the next book. ;P

    Christine, I hope you find it. I know how much you enjoy YA and this might be right up your alley, although well... a bit different. I hope you get your review writing mojo back, can't wait to read your YotH review. :)

    Nath, thanks. I might save his other 2 books for another emergecy! LOL!

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  12. I just got this book from the library today! I'm going to read it right after I finish my current book. :P

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  13. Oh ames, I hope you like it! Get those tissues ready... I promise you're going to need them.

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  14. I just finished this book this morning and was blubbering like a complete idiot. I had to compose myself before I could drive to work. I'm thinking I should have finished last night. It certainly didn't end like I thought it would, that's for sure.

    Excellent, excellent book. With Joey's need for that male figure in his life and the way that Charlie's life was turned around by the influence of a preteen I was loving every minute of it. I love Kluger's work and will definitely be reading more in the future.

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  15. Oh Tracy, I know what you mean! I cried and cried at the end of this book, and actually kept a box of tissues next to me after a certain point. It was such an emotional ending.

    I'm SO glad you loved it. Excellent, absolutely! I'm still holding on to two of his books in my TBR because Kluger doesn't have an extensive backlist and I just don't want to finish them all too soon. I want to savor them. I wish he would write more.

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