Thursday, December 6, 2012

Middle-Grade Fiction: The View From Saturday

E.L. Konigsburg is well known for her award-winning children’s literature, having won two Newberry Medals for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and this novel, The View from Saturday.  We listened to the audio of From the Mixed-Up Files… together as a family, as well as another Konigsburg novel, The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World.  Unfortunately, my teenage sons don’t like listening to audio books together anymore (sniff, sniff), but I enjoyed listening to this one on my own.

The View from Saturday is about a sixth-grade Academic Bowl team, but to my surprise, very little of the story is actually about the competition itself.  This novel is more of a character study, examining the lives of each of the four team members and how they came to know each other and become friends.  Ethan, who is very smart but rarely talks, feels like he lives in the shadow of his high-achieving older brother.  Nadia, with a halo of bright red hair, meets Ethan for the first time when her grandfather marries his grandmother down in Florida, and they both visit during the summer and end up saving turtles together.  Noah, by a strange accident, ends up acting as best man at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather.  The fourth and final Academic Bowl team member is Julian, who is new to the area, with an unusual and exotic background that makes him fodder for the school bullies.

The four of them begin to become friends when Julian invites them all to a tea party.  Their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, who has returned to teaching for the first time since an accident that left her in a wheelchair, isn’t entirely sure why she has chosen these four for her team, except that each one just seems to be the right choice at the right time.  The team is very successful together, as the opening scene of the Academic Bowl shows, but more importantly, the four kids become friends and each becomes more comfortable with who she or he is, through their experiences both in school and out.

This is essentially the story of outcasts finding their place in the world.  Each of the four kids – and their teacher – is a bit of a geek and feels out of place at the beginning, until they find each other and begin to bond.  It’s a warm story of unlikely friendship, with touches of gentle humor throughout.  I have to admit that my 14-year old son was right – he wouldn’t have enjoyed this book much, despite having been on his own middle school’s Academic Bowl team.  He just prefers more action and suspense in his books (when he reads at all!).  But kids who enjoy real-life stories of real-life kids overcoming obstacles and finding friends will enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Simon & Schuster Audio

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