Newbery Project #17: 1997’s The View from Saturday

View-From-a-SaturdayE.L. Konigsburg’s award-winning book-writing career is kind of strange. Her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, won the honor, and then her second book was From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and then she published 8 more novels and a handful of picture books and short story collections rather quietly before Newbery came knocking again for this book. And I can’t say I’m entirely sure why.

The View from Saturday is basically 5 overlapping stories from the perspective of one teacher and the four students she selects to be on her Academic Bowl team. All the students are rather thoughtful and quiet types, and three of them are connected by a weird old person wedding. The fourth is new in town and invites everyone over for tea, because that is what thoughtful, precocious children do. The book weaves their stories together slowly so we eventually see how their lives intertwine and how they’ve all made each other’s lives richer and all that.

It’s an enjoyable book. I even remember reading it as a teenager (I’m not sure what exactly made 14 or 15-year-old me pick up a middle grade novel, but I do remember reading it) and really enjoying it. As an adult it was nice but nothing that really moved me. The characters themselves didn’t seem different enough. They were all a little too precious and obedient. I never for a second thought any of them would ever put one toe out of line, and that doesn’t make for the most exciting plot.

And one little nitpick-y thing that isn’t really a valid criticism but still drove me bananas:  the questions at the competition were RIDICULOUS. They were all, like, 5 parts long. I’ve participated in and witnessed my share of nerdy academic competitions, and none of them have had questions this convoluted. Also, there’s a question in which they ask the kids to name a bunch of words that are actually acronyms and the kid says “Tip,” and the judges say he’s wrong but he’s ridiculously insistent that he’s right and that it means “To Insure Promptness” except that IT’S NOT. And I really wanted to punch his little smug face every time he insisted it was, especially when the judges actually relent and give him the points. Further clicking-about reveals he was also wrong about “posh.”

Would kids like it? I enjoyed this book more as a child (well, teen) than as an adult, so I’m inclined to say yes. I didn’t like reading about naughty kids when I was young. I liked reading about nice kids like me. Nice kids will like this.

Are there funny bits? This is not an overly-serious book. It’s not a laugh-a-minute either, but it tries.

Do I understand why it won? Not really. It’s fine. It’s nice. But it’s underwhelming, I think. Maybe I’m missing something.

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