The View from Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg
Interests: school, teachers, friendship, academic competitions
Simon & Schuster: 1996
A quirky, complex story about four grade six students selected to form a quiz team. Each struggling in their own way with social anxieties or family issues, the students are drawn together by the ultimate outsider, foreign student Julian Singh, who invites them (via cryptic clues on sticky notes) to a mysterious tea party. Dubbing themselves The Souls, the foursome goes on to defeat teams much older than themselves and win the Academic Bowl. Along the way the friends also support their teacher – confined to a wheelchair after a recent car crash – and help her regain confidence in her ability to teach.
In part about dealing with social stress and bullying, this story is also about simple kindness and generosity of spirit. It also champions academic prowess and nerdy individuality in the difficult middle school grades.
The first sections of the novel are narrated in turn by each of the four friends, whose lives overlap in unexpected ways. The structure of the book will appeal to thoughtful readers, especially the way in which characters retell the same events from different points of view.
I chose this for my first review of the new year because the overall tone is hopeful, optimistic about the kindness and humanity we are all capable of. And it celebrates intellectual pursuits and the thrill of bonding with other kindred spirits. E.L. Konigsburg is a smart, smart writer, who does not write down to her audience, instead both charming and challenging them.