Thursday, February 12, 2009

The View from Saturday

I was predisposed to like The View from Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg, because From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite childhood books, and remains a favorite today. And I like reading about smart misfits, having been one myself, especially in junior high school.

But the four kids' stories in The View from Saturday didn't really grab my interest. The kids' voices didn't seem quite right to me, and as soon as I got used to one character - bam, a new point of view appeared.

There were a few passages that made me laugh, or nod my head in agreement, like the ones below - but in general, I just couldn't seem to connect to the characters or their situations. They never seemed real to me - except when Nadia gets mad at everyone and stays home watching daytime tv and decides that everyone is either pathetic or disgusting - that I could see myself doing when I was 11 or 12 year old.

Here are a few passages that I liked, anyway:

There were times in school when a person had to do things fast, cheap and without character (pp. 9-10).
Such public displays of affection can be embarrassing to a prepubescent girl like me who is not accustomed to being in the company of two married people who like each other (p. 27).

I read a book a few years ago called Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds, by Michael Quinion (entitled Port Out, Starboard Home: And Other Language Myths in the U.K.), which includes a rather lengthy discussion of the origins of the word posh. And as much as I liked the Grandpa's song in his flying "laboratory" in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:
"O the posh posh traveling life, the traveling life for me
First cabin and captain's table regal company
Pardon the dust of the upper crust - fetch us a cup of tea
Port out, starboard home, posh with a capital P-O-S-H, posh... inner word nerd didn't really approve of Julian's use of this folk etymology to score points in an academic contest (see Quinion's essay on the origins of tip here). Then again, it wasn't as easy to fact-check stuff like this in the pre-Google era, and I certainly didn't know all of the "Fifteen Questions with Thirty-Six Answers" that Konigsburg adds to the end of the story.

Fact: Mrs. Konigsburg is pretty perceptive when it comes to describing people's reactions to physical disability and to subtle bullying amongst 6th graders.

Further Fact: The slightly mystical part of the story - Epiphany, The Souls, the choice of the teammates, Mr. Singh's statements to Mrs. Olinski, all the little synchronicities, and (most unreal of all) - the kids coming together and not fighting at all - didn't work so well for me.

And like Aunt Sara, the whole use of the noose as a team symbol bothered me - though its use as a racist threat wasn't as prevalent in the 90's as it is today (see an interesting article on "The History of the Noose"), it still made me uncomfortable. It didn't jibe well with what I saw as the other symbols in the story - the cups of tea, or the calligraphy and fountain pen, for instance. Then again, symbolism is not really my cup of tea.

I can't help agreeing that kindness is something that 6th graders and teachers really need. So even though many of the disparate pieces of The View from Saturday just didn't work for me (and why the title? I don't like it when the reason for the title isn't explicit in the book), I can see why many others - especially adults who like to speculate about the decline of Western civilization - like this book.


Amanda (the librarian) said...

I agree with many of your concerns and points, but nevertheless, I rather like this book - review to come soon.

Cathy Morrow said...

I love this book. Julian is my favorite character and I like the twist the author put in the story.

Casey said...

I didn't like the story either. I read it in middle school and I didn't realize that the characters were changing view points. I cannot even remember the plot now.
I suppose I didn't like it because of the change in view but reading the condensed plot makes me think I should have enjoyed it. I keep reading the other comments on the book that say "Oh, I love/d this book" and then I wonder if I missed something when I read it.