Children's/Coming-of-Age, Konigsburg, E. L.

Review of The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

What was it about?

Mrs. Eva Marie Olinski has chosen four students from her sixth grade class to participate as a team in the Academic Bowl. The students – Nadia, Noah, Ethan, and Julian – call themselves The Souls, and become the first sixth graders ever to win the Bowl at Epiphany Middle School. But when asked how she chose the team members, Mrs. Olinksi can’t give a good reason. Mrs. Olinski doesn’t really know why she chose those particular students.

Izzy Diamondstein, Nadia’s grandfather, has recently married Ethan Potter’s grandmother, Margaret Draper, at Century Village, a retirement community in Florida. Shortly before the wedding, Nadia’s mother obtains a divorce from Allen Diamondstein, Izzy’s son. As part of the divorce agreement, Nadia visits her father in Florida during the summer holidays. During one of these summers, Nadia meets Ethan who reluctantly tells  her that, after the divorce, Grandmother Margaret had found Nadia’s mother a job at a dentist office in New York. The dentist is the father of Noah Gershom, the boy who was best-man at the Diamondstein-Draper wedding. Although Nadia, Noah, and Ethan are related by familial ties, they do not become friends until they meet Julian Singh, an Indian boy who was educated in England but is now a new student at Epiphany Middle School.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg tells the story of four sixth graders whose personal experiences have equipped them to win the Academic Bowl. While the events of Bowl Day are told in the third person omniscient, every other chapter is told from the perspective of one of the students. The novel’s unique narrative style allows the reader to learn about the students’ personalities and stories from the students’ own perspectives.

What did I think of it?

The narrative style really sucked me in. Some of the children jump from thought to thought which can be hard for an adult reader to follow, but it would not do for the story to be told in an adult voice. Children do not speak in highfalutin language. In an interview, E.L. Konigsburg explained how she decided on the writing style for her book. She said, “I thought children would enjoy meeting one character, and then two characters, and that they would enjoy seeing parts of the story repeated but in a different way. I thought that they would enjoy having the second character interact with the first character, with each story moving the general story along. And I had hoped that readers would feel very satisfied with themselves when they had it all worked out.”

My favorite chapter was the one told from Nadia’s perspective. A Divorce  is always complicated. Two people who were once in love no longer want to share a life together. Nadia resents the fact that no one ever consults her about anything. She feels like nothing more than a clause in a divorce agreement. It is refreshing to read a book in which divorce is seen through a child’s perspective. While divorce is not a major plot element in the story, Nadia’s reactions to her father and grandparents were powerful and memorable.

Admittedly, the plot is very predictable, but as I wrote on Goodreads,  we all need to read a feel-good story once in a while. We all need a story that embodies the values we hold dear. The View from Saturday does just that. It celebrates diversity, equality, and respect. Because of the values it promotes and because of its unique narrative style, I am glad that The View from Saturday won the Newbery Medal in 1997.

Favorite Quote

[Ethan]: “The way I see it, the difference between farmers and suburbanites is the difference in the way we feel about dirt. To them, the earth is something to be respected and preserved, but dirt gets no respect. A farmer likes dirt. Suburbanites like to get rid of it. Dirt is the working layer of earth, and dealing with dirt is as much a part of farm life as dealing with manure. Neither is user-friendly but both are necessary.”  

 This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge