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Last Days of Summer: Buy it, read it, give it to a friend

Last Days of Summer
by Steve Kluger

Avon Books, $21

Review by Ron McGuire

(CNN) -- As a kid, did you keep a scrapbook filled with letters, ticket stubs, clippings, and assorted other memorabilia of your youth? If so, you will readily identify with the style of Steve Kluger's latest literary endeavor. If not, you'll wish you had after reading "Last Days of Summer," a novel in the form of a teen-age boy's collection of quirky letters, matchbook covers, and assorted other bits and pieces of a childhood lived on the edge of disaster.

Kluger's protagonist, Joey Margolis, is the most unlikely of heroes. A child of 13 -- abandoned by his wealthy father and moved into a tough Brooklyn neighborhood by his indulgent mother -- Joey lives life reeling from one mishap to another. He is a child lost without a father and desperate to fill the tremendous void in his life.

But Joey is never at a loss for words. He is intelligent and stubborn -- a combination that just as often leads a kid to jail as it does to runaway success. In Joey's case, you can never really be sure where he's going, but you always know he's on the move -- or more precisely, on the make.

A constant schemer, Joey manages, through a series of antagonistic letters, to win over an initially stand-offish professional baseball player (who happens to be dating a famous singer). The book is set in 1940-41, and the athlete who would become the object of Joey's unwanted attention is the hard-hitting and hard-living Charlie Banks.

Their initial correspondence amounts to little more than hate mail, but over time Joey and Charlie come to realize that they are more like the other than either wants to admit. Their story is told through their letters, but much of what the reader comes to know is more implied than expressed. Theirs is a relationship built on hard won mutual trust -- and it is that trust that saves Joey Margolis, despite the painful price he must ultimately pay.

This book is captivating. I simply could not put it down, and found myself wishing it had just one more chapter, one more letter, one more moment of youthful exuberance before the carefully constructed world of Joey Margolis came crashing down around him. The lessons Joey learns from Charlie are lessons for us all, and they carry him through what is perhaps his greatest challenge. Buy it, read it, give it to a friend -- they'll be glad you did.

Ron McGuire is an online coordinator with CNN Interactive. He has worked as an entertainment writer and in radio.

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