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The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

August 24, 2011

Notice anything about the title of this particular book?  Seems a little familiar…alright, you caught me.  I shamelessly stole the title of this blog (slightly modified) from this fantastic book by one of my favorite young adult authors, E.L. KonigsburgThe View From Saturday won the Newbery Medal in 1997, smack dab in the middle of my adolescence (I was 11), and it has become one of my very favorite young adult books.

Fun Fact:  E.L. Konigsburg won a Newbery Medal  in 1968 for From The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerThat’s 29 years before her Newbery for The View From Saturday It is the longest stretch of time between any two Newbery medals awarded to the same author.  Konigsburg also is the only author to win both a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor award in the same year.  Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth won a Newbery Honor award the same year From The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the Newbery Medal.

The Blurbology:

Noah is a know-it-all with a knack for getting into strange situations, Nadia is stuck between two worlds after her parent’s divorce, Ethan is trying to emerge from the shadow of his nearly-perfect older brother, and  Julian is the new kid–a strange boy raised between cultures–between India, England, America and the High Seas, and who starts everything by inviting the others to a tea party. Meet The Souls: four friends who didn’t know that they needed each other, until they did.  Meet their teacher: Mrs. Olinski has just returned to teaching after a horrible accident which has left her in a wheelchair.  The five of them, teacher and students, begin a journey together after Mrs. Olinski unknowingly chooses the four members of The Souls to be on the sixth grade academic bowl team. To the astonishment of the rest of the school, the sixth grade team wins, and then keeps on winning until they are on their way to the middle school state championship.  Their success surprises everyone but Mrs. Olinski, but the real question of the story is this:  did she choose The Souls, or did The Souls choose her?

The Analysis:

It’s hard to explain why this book is so magical.  I think that as we become adults we automatically start becoming bitter about our relationships once we lose our innocence.  For example, we no longer believe in love at first sight–that magical feeling of belonging to another human being without even knowing why.  But, what happens to the four friends in The View from Saturday is like friendship at first sight.  As soon as Noah, Nadia, Ethan and Julian are together for the first time to have tea at Sillington House, as a kid, you just know.  They are friends, forever, whether they were before or not.  As an adult, it is hard to believe in such instantaneous trust and affection, but I remember reading this book as a child and even as a teenager (I’ve always been young at heart) and feeling a warm glow of belief in the power of true friendship.  And what’s more, you not only believe in the true power of  The Souls’ friendship, but you also believe in the power of your own relationships.  I think that’s why I loved this book so much as a child:  it made me believe that I too could have such powerful, true friendships.

(Now, let me cheat for just a second…)

In no other book this year were the potentials of both heart and mind in children laid out with such persuasive clarity…it’s a jubilant, unique tour de force.

-John Peters, chair, 1997 Newbery Committee

Above  I have given you a very nostalgic analysis of  The View from Saturday so let me give you a few reasons why this book is also good literature.  Konigsburg’s prose is simple and clear, and aligns with the communication style of the characters in the book:  when they choose to communicate, they do so very precisely.   Her words tell no more and no less than what needs to be told.  This is not to say that the novel is without description or mood, this is to say that Konigsburg writes clearly without being verbose.  This in part is the “persuasive clarity” Mr. Peters mentions in his review.

In the book, the children use their collective knowledge, gleaned from individual journeys to help them win quiz bowl matches.   The chapters containing the characters’ individual journeys are a result of the book’s origins as several short stories that E.L Konigsburg realized were related and melded together into a novel.  From these individual journeys and also the world of the story, you start to realize that all of the characters have relatives and friends in common.  The people in this book are knit together in community, and as a child I loved figuring out all of the connections that the characters had, especially when they did not realize it themselves.  It is these tiny puzzles and mysteries, and secrets the reader has from the characters, that I believe pushes the novel from a good one into a great one.  It takes great skill to weave such a tapestry.

Finally, as Mr. Peters says above, the book shows the potential of the characters.  The quiz bowl plot is not important, it is the development of the individual characters and their collective friendship that is important.  It is the relationship between teacher and students that is important, not the outcome of their practices.  In this way, by focusing so much on these wonderful child characters, E.L Konigsburg truly demonstrates “the potential of both heart and mind in children.”

So, go to your nearest independent bookstore, and buy a copy of this wonderful book, one of my all-time favorites, for your favorite young adult!!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 29, 2011 9:53 pm

    Excellent review, Courtney. Really excellent. I love how you interject how you connected with it personally while also considering its literary merit.

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