November 21, 2008

Last Days of Summer

Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
Contemporary Fiction - Epistolary
1998 Bard (Avon Books)
Finished on 11/12/08
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

Publishers Weekly

Mixing nostalgia, baseball and a boy's mostly epistolary friendship with a 1940s baseball star, this inventive but sentimental novel consists entirely of letters, fictional newspaper clippings, telegrams, war dispatches, report cards and other documentary fragments. Growing up Jewish in a tough, Italian Brooklyn neighborhood, Joey Margolis is troubled by anti-Semitic neighbors, by Hitler's rising power, by his parents' divorce and by his absent cad of a father. Craving a surrogate dad, Joey strikes up a correspondence with Wisconsin-born New York Giants slugger Charlie Banks. The boy's outrageous fibs, tough-guy posturing and desperate pleas grab the reluctant attention of the superstar, whose racy vernacular guy-talk (peppered with amusing misspellings and misusages) hints at his deepening affection for Joey. Charlie is a politically enlightened proletarian ballplayer with a heart of gold. His liberal views find an echo in Joey, whose best friend, Japanese-American Craig Nakamura, gets shipped off with his family to a wartime internment camp. In a plot that swerves from Joey's Bar Mitzvah to a White House meeting with President Roosevelt to [spoiler deleted], Kluger keeps changing the pace and piles on a slew of period references with a heavy hand. Despite these flaws, this debut novel is at its best a poignant, golden evocation of one boy's lost innocence.

Product Description

May 15, 1940

Charlie Banks
New York Giants
Polo Grounds, New York

Dear Mr. Banks:
I am a 12–year–old boy and I am dying from malaria. Please hit a home run for me because I don't think I will be around much longer.

Your friend,
Joey Margolis

Dear Kid:
Last week it was the plague. Now it's malaria. What do I look – stupid to you? You're lucky I don't send somebody over there to tap you on the conk. I am enclosing 1 last picture. Do not write to me again.

Chase. Banks
3d Base

Dear Charlie:
Nobody asked for your damn picture. I never even heard of you before. And you can forget about the home run too. The only reason I needed one was because the bullies who keep beating me up somehow thought you were my best friend and the homer was supposed to keep them from slugging me anymore. Thanks for nothing.
Can I go on a road trip with you?

Your arch enemy,
Joey Margolis

Dear Joey:
"Somehow" they thought I was your best friend? Where did they hear that from? A Nazi spy? J. Herbert Hoover? Franklin Delano Biscuithead? And didn't I tell you not to write to me anymore? Go bug DiMaggio.

P.S. And just because there's a spot open for a bat boy this summer doesn't mean your going to get it. Even if we ARE chips off the same block.

I've had this book on my shelf for nearly a decade! I know at one point I read a dozen or so pages, but couldn't get interested. Usually, I'd give up at that point, but I remembered my boss at Borders Books saying it was a great read, so I set it aside for another time. As I was putting together a list for my epistolary endcap, I remembered this book and decided to give it another chance, especially since I don't like to have any books on the endcap that I haven't read. Well, just as with the first attempt, I had a bit of a slow start with Last Days of Summer, but once I got a couple of dozen pages in, I was hooked.

Of course this shouldn't have surprised me, as I love baseball, books set during World War II, epistolary books and coming-of-age stories.

I laughed out loud and I cried.

I hugged the book to my chest when I finished and whispered, "Great book!"

I thought about various actors, wishing this were a movie as well as a book.

I'll read it again and recommend it to everyone.

Yep, great book.

Dear Mr. Kluger,

You scored a home run with this marvelous book. I fell in love with Joey, Charlie, Hazel and Stuke and was sorry when I came to the last page. Thank goodness you have another epistolary work for me to read!

Thanks for the laughs.

A happy reader in Nebraska.


  1. Anonymous4:37 AM

    I read this book a while ago and absolutely LOVED it. I'm so glad there's another book out by Steve Kluger - I just added it to my wish list.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful book. How difficult is it to find? Still on bookshelves in stores?

  3. Ok, answered my own question. I see B&N has it.
    Great review. I'm going to buy it and then give it to my husband and then our son to read. Probably our daughters... we're baseball fans, can you tell? LOL. Also fans of WWII era books.

  4. I must have skipped reviewing this one because I was in Oklahoma, taking care of my mother, when I read it. But, it made my list of Biggest Smile Inducers for 2007. It's hard to describe how wonderful it is, but you did a great job. Probably for the same reason (having to go to Burger King for my internet breaks), I also never looked up more work by the author, so thanks for mentioning that he has another. I've just added it to my wish list. :)

  5. I like what you're doing here...seems like a fun, inspiring book ;) sometimes I like reading 3 or 4 books at the same time lol

  6. thanks for the great review. I am off to order this book for my 11 year old son for Christmas. He loves reading and sports, so this looks like a winner. He read So Long Jackie Robinson by Nancy Russell, set in Montreal during the 1950s and really liked it, and this sounds perfect for him.

  7. What a beautifully written and clever review. Loved that last bit! Oh, witty Les!!

  8. I loved, loved, loved this book, too! And, I had the same emotions as you did. I'm giving it as a gift to several people along with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Here's to fabulous reads!!! :)

  9. My reaction to this book when I read several years go...exactly the same as yours! I could not love this book more! I love it when I find people who respond to a book the way I did. ;) I forgot about his other books. I guess I should go check him out on amazon.

  10. Lynne - Seems to be a well-loved book, doesn't it? I'm surprised it isn't more well-known, though, aren't you? I can't wait to read his other book!

    Mary - I used the old artwork for the cover since that's the copy I own. There's a new (updated - although, I'm not sure what's different about that version) edition that was recently released.

    Anytime you see a book reviewed here on my blog, just click on the title and you'll be re-directed to Amazon so you can purchase the book, if you like. :)

    I'm not sure how old your son and daughters are, but just a heads-up. There is a bit of "rough language" in the book. It didn't bother me in the least (I'm guilty of worse!), but if your kids are young, you may want to read it first.

    Nancy - I looked for your review, but only saw mention that you had read it. Yep, it is a good book for inducing big smiles. And tears...

    Lorraine - Thank you! And, yes, it's a fun book! Lots of nostalgia, tenderness, humor, etc. You'll have to let me know what you're reading when you get a chance. I'm always looking for good recommendations.

    Raidergirl3 - See my above note to Mary. I'm sure your son would love this book, especially if he loves baseball. Hmmm, I may have to get a copy of So Long Jackie Robinson. Sounds good!

    Nan - Aren't you sweet! Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Joy - I need to go back and read your review. I forgot to search the blogosphere to see who else had reviewed the book. Thanks for the gift idea. :)

    Kim - It's definitely a keeper, isn't it? I hope his other book is as good.

  11. Meant to say and forgot..One of my favourite authors, for good fulfilling stories and one of the few author that makes me laugh out loud is Susan Elizabeth Phillips...One of her recent ones 'Ain't she Sweet' is one of those bitchy-turned-nice woman that is really entertaining, fun and yes educational lol...Any of her books are wonderful

  12. Didn't Nancy Pearl speak well of Kluger in one of her books? Sounds great; I love anything related to baseball. And you're right -- it sounds like a great movie.

  13. oh what I'm reading right now is Sandra Brown's Play Dirty, which I started and put aside 3 times not sure if the premice of it would be that interesting. Former Dallas Cowboy who threw a game is finally let out of jail and he follows up on a billionaire's request to meet. The job, get his wife pregnant, as he can't. Honestly I expected the usual 'find passion...guilty...etc' but no it's handled quite well. The characters are believable and it's a better book than I expected, although a bit violent at times. I'm halfway through ;)

  14. You review some of the best books. It was your review that led me to Book Thief last year. I'm adding this to my Christmas wishlist. My girls usually refer to it, so there's a good chance one will buy it for me. YAY!

  15. Lorraine - I'm not familiar with Susan Elizabeth Phillips (other than seeing her books on the shelves at work), but I'll have to take a peek at one. Same thing goes for Sandra Brown. Never read her, but will keep her in mind next time I need some ideas for new authors. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Bybee - You know, I think she did. I'll have to dig out her book and see what she had to say.

    Booklogged - Aw, well aren't you nice to say so. I guess it's just the luck of the draw as to what I read/review. I hope you get a copy of the book for Christmas. I'd send you mine, but you know what? This one's a keeper! :)


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