by E.L. Konigsburg
So I’ve begun to realize that there are books I loved as a child, books that have become beloved classics in my personal library, and that these books were written by people who wrote other books. Part of me, though, is a bit terrified of those other books. What if they don’t live up to expectations? Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of my dearest books, but the rest of the series, which I recently read as an adult, was rather dreadful.
One of these beloved childhood books for me is The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I can’t explain why, exactly. Something about the brilliance of running away to a giant museum closely paralleled my dream of living in a library (specifically Wagnall’s Memorial, which is like a castle!), and just the magic of the whole idea. As I got older, I was able to better emphasize with Claudia, and the struggle to be an individual and to do something special, something unique – to have a secret that was yours.
Point is, a couple months ago I was looking at my bedraggled copy of The Mixed-Up Files (no covers and it’s taped together) and I thought to myself, I’m pretty sure Konigsburg is a famous author and wrote lots of other stuff. I should try one of those! So I typed in her name on the library website, and there was The View from Saturday, and I decided to give it a whirl.
Overall, I’m not a huge fan of slice-of-life kind of stories, and I have an inherent suspicion of award winning/classic books, which too often are dreary, depressing, pointless, and full of stupid, whiny people who never do realize how good their lives actually are. And so I approached The View from Saturday with some trepidation. What I read was a book that I purchased the day that I finished it so that I could add it to my collection.
Here’s the tricky part, though – I can’t explain why. I don’t really know what it is about this book that so completely captured me. It wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; it was a perfectly crafted story in every way.
It is a story, sort of, about Mrs. Olinski’s sixth-grade Academic Bowl team, which has somehow managed to beat not only the other sixth-grade teams, but the seventh-and-eight-graders, too – and beyond. How did these four completely different children end up on the same team, and why do they get along so well? How did Mrs. Olinski choose them? The story unwinds, partly taking place during a current quiz bowl competition, partly told by each of the four children as they recall a critical event in their recent lives that led them to where they are today.
And while that is the bare bones of the book, it’s nothing like what the book really is. This was a book full of insight and beauty, yet told in a way that is simple and readable even for a someone the same age as this eclectic sixth-grade team.
After The Souls had won the Epiphany Middle School championship, Dr. Roy Clayton Rohmer paid a visit to Mrs. Olinski and asked – guess what? – why she had chosen this team. She still didn’t know (and wouldn’t until after it was over), but by that time the success of The Souls (even if she did not yet know that they were The Souls) had made Mrs. Olinski less timid.
Dr. Rohmer announced that he had just completed a three-day workshop on multiculturalism for ed-you-kay-toars. Mrs. Olinski had always been amused by educators who called themselves ed-you-kay-toars. So, when he asked her how she had chosen the four members of her academic team, Mrs. Olinski knitted her brow and answered with hushed seriousness. “In the interest of diversity,” she said, “I chose a brunette, a redhead, a blond, and a kid with hair as black as print on paper.”
Dr. Rohmer was not amused. He gave Mrs. Olinski a capsule lecture on what multiculturalism really means.
“Oh,” she said, “then we’re still safe, Dr. Rohmer. You can tell the taxpayers that the Epiphany Middle school team has one Jew, one half-Jew, a WASP, and an Indian.”
“Jews, half-Jews, and WASPs have nothing to do with diversity, Mrs. Olinski. The Indian does. But we don’t call them Indians any more. We call them Native Americans.”
“Not this one,” she replied.
“Mrs. Olinski,” Dr. Rohmer asked, “would you like it if people called you a cripple?”
Mrs. Olinski gave up. Everyone believed that she could be wounded by the word cripple. She could never explain to Dr. Rohmer, nor would she try to, that the word itself does not hurt, but the manner of its delivery can. For all of his training, Dr. Rohmer would never believe that cripples themselves are a diverse group, and some make jokes.
I think I loved this book because it explored different life-situations without making any seem better or worse than another. Happy parents, divorced parents, widowed parents – kids who had lived there all their lives, kids from someplace else, kids from a different country – Konigsburg manages to explore the concept of true diversity – that we are, by nature, diverse – that diversity has nothing to do with skin color, and everything to do with the simple fact of being.
I strongly recommend this book. It’s a short, easy read, and one that I could barely put down. Even though it is not a plot-driven story, it engaged me completely as Konigsburg wove together such different lives into one whole.
It’s truly rare for me to embrace a book so completely. As an adult, I so rarely come across a “magic” book – one that becomes an instant classic, one that I know I will read time and again – but The View from Saturday did just that. I can’t recommend it highly enough. 5/5.