Most who know me will recall that I have an unusual affinity for Newbery Award winners. I own many and have read more than I own. The complete list can be found through the ALA (American Library Association) website, and a quick look through them will undoubtedly bring to mind some of the favorite books of your youth. Konigsburg's 1968 winner From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a great love of mine (although I want to reread it because I can't remember much about it at all), but I had never read her The View From Saturday. I saw it during our regular Monday visit to the library and decided to pick it up for our trip. With the t.v. invariably on and many competing conversations, I am rarely ever to sustain the proper attention needed for a "serious" book during these visits, so I thought a YA book would be just the thing. Turns out, I was mostly right and almost wrong.
The View From Saturday introduces you (in fits and starts) to Noah Gershom, Nadia Diamonstein, Ethan Potter, and Julian Singh, New York sixth graders who unexpectedly find success in their state's academic bowl competition. Also a major contributor to the plot is the kids' teacher: Mrs. Olinski, who is a paraplegic returning to the classroom for the first time in the 10 years since the accident that paralyzed her. Konigsburg uses a familiar although always interesting technique of developing the story through the individual voices and stories of her main characters. The stories overlap in unexpected ways, and there are definite undertones of magical realism to be heard. This book was a quick and entertaining piece that kept me curious about how all the pieces would fall together in the end, so in that way, I was right.
How was I wrong then? Well, I finished the book a few minutes ago, and though it is an accessible book for middle grades students, I still feel like I should reread to better understand what Konigsburg is doing. Those pieces that kept me puzzling throughout didn't fall as tidily as I might have expected, so I feel like I missed something. Perhaps I did need to be able to pay better attention? Konigsburg has allowed enough chinks to remain in this story to lead the reader to interpretation, and I think she has done so intentionally. The plot is satisfactorily resolved, but some of the philosophical, ethical, or mystical elements are left to the reader to tease out. I would need more time and effort (and less Transformers movie in the background) to tease them out at this point.
The quiet triumph of these oddballs is likely a welcome voice of encouragement for many potential outcasts in the terrifying world that is Middle School. And though I admired no small portion of Konigsburg's writing and imaginative storyline, there were definite things to take issue with. First is the annoying absence of contractions. It's not a strict rule as some "it's" and "you're" usages slip in. But the lack of "don't" or "won't" leaves the reader with the oddly unsettling voice of a sixth-grader saying
Tell her. I do not care. She knows every other thing about me. Tell her. And do not count on me for breakfast. I do not want any. (50)A single quote can't quite convey how odd this sounds coming from a teenager. The repetition of it, though, makes you wonder if it was an intentional technique to further distance these kids from normal or if Konigsburg merely operates under the outdated opinion that contractions should be avoided most of the time. I could see a kid reader being merely annoyed by it. I also had difficulty believing these kids would so easily fall together over a simple afternoon tea. That's where you have to begin accepting the magical elements, but if you stumble there, you will have a terribly hard time getting anywhere else in the book. Let me be clear though: I liked this book. Perhaps not as much as some other books for young people that have knocked my socks off, but enough to keep my admiration for all things Newbery intact.
And speaking of books for young people that have knocked my socks off: I finally got to see the latest installment in the Harry Potter films last night, and I was well-pleased. A few inconsistencies and only one that I thought was a poor directorial choice. Strangest thing about it? I spent the first thirty minutes or so feeling I was going to cry at any moment, even though it wasn't particularly sad. Feeling emotional over the end of an era? So not like me. Hmmm. . . . .