A good book follows a storyline through its twists and turns to make a point about life, happiness, or their absence. A great book takes a bunch of seemingly unconnected pieces and puts them together to simply show life in all its awkwardness, sadness, hilarity, and joy. The View from Saturday is definitely the second kind.
Ostensibly, the book is about four sixth graders who become a trivia bowl team under the guidance of their paraplegic teacher Mrs. Olinski (a widow) and beat all comers. But it's also about a club that becomes a friendship formed by those four sixth graders who call themselves The Souls. Then again, it's about the ways all these characters's lives were entwined before they even became a team, or a club, or friends, or a sixth grade teacher again after years of retirement.
The question is often asked throughout the book: How did Mrs. Olinski choose Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian to be the sixth grade trivia team from her classroom, and ultimately from their town of Epiphany? She has a lot of answers, none of them satisfactory for her or anyone else, until the answer finally dawns on her well after the fact.
Between third-person narrative from Mrs. Olinski's perspective, E. L. Konigsburg lets each of the four children tell their own story of the events leading up to their formation as The Souls. Noah tells how he ended up being the best man at the wedding of Nadia and Ethan's grandparents; Nadia talks about the aftermath of her dad's divorce, and of rescuing turtles with him, her grandfather and his new wife, and Ethan; Ethan speaks after long silence and explains about Julian; and Julian, in his perfect British Indian accent, reveals his chops as a magician.
Bringing all these stories together, especially in the context of weekly tea parties and a state trivia championship, is a monumental task, but Konigsburg accomplishes it masterfully. She actually adopts a different style for each of the sixth grade narrators, infuses plenty of intelligent humor (a few lines are laugh-out-loud hilarious), and captures the ethos of what it means to mature.
What it means to mature in our modern world with its specific challenges, that is. Nadia deals with her parents's divorce, Julian with the persecution of bullies, Noah with the imbalance between his knowledge and social skills, and Ethan with his painful shyness. But these are not typical sixth graders (as Mrs. Olinski quickly discovers): they're intelligent, polite, creative, innocent, and as aware of the needs of others as they are of their own.
Some parents might balk at the references to puberty (they are brief and non-descriptive), some of the ways Nadia describes her father's post-divorce apartment complex (nothing kids will pick up on), and the use of the technical term for a female dog (which is actually used to describe a female dog). However, Konigsburg includes these details, not for laughs or to defend them, but to accurately depict the kind of world current sixth graders live in.
Which is also why she includes references to public school officials getting in trouble for referencing the Bible in a trivia round, the fact that kids aren't taught how to behave at home which is why they can't behave in public, and several pretty funny incidents concerning racial sensisitivity or the lack thereof. These references are tongue in cheek, and clearly meant to satirize a system that is in so many ways utterly ridiculous.
The View from Saturday only becomes clear at the end of the novel, and when it does it makes the whole wonderful book all the more worthwhile. This is middle school fiction as it ought to be—funny, serious, sometimes sad, intelligent, and above all pointing young people to virtue and friendship as the standards, and meanness and malice as abnormal. With no hyperbole intended, this is one of the best Newbery Medalists, and simply one of the best novels for young readers ever written.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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