Premise: A group of 4 quirky sixth graders shocks everyone, even their teacher, by making it to the championship round of the Academic Bowl.
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Series or Stand-Alone: Stand-Alone
Content Appropriate For: Grades 5-7
Format: Paperback in school library
Three adjectives that describe this book: strange, sweet, disappointing
The View From Saturday won the Newberry Medal in 1997. It is required reading in classrooms all over the United States. It also has lots of die-hard fans. Last week when I read it, I was wholly disappointed, and even a bit disgusted.
Okay, maybe disgusted is too severe. Either way, this review is not going to be pretty. Here's the deal, as I see it -
It kind of hurts to say this about such a well-regarded book, but I found The View from Saturday terribly painful to read. Its self-important tone really grated on me, and at times it felt like Konigsburg was being obtuse just for the sake of it.
I found the lack of plot to be difficult, the characters too convenient, and the entire thing absurdly elitist. This is really more of a character-driven story than a plot-driven one. Character-driven novels aren't my favorite, but this one was especially difficult. I found it hard to care about these characters. They were just so self-centered and over-the-top caricatures. They didn't seem like real sixth graders, but more like the author made them up in her mind.
I mean, I'm sure there are 6th grade boys who are all about calligraphy. And I'm sure there are others that love solving problems at nursing homes. And there are certainly some 6th graders who are genius problem solvers. I bet there are even sixth graders who enjoy a good tea party. But bundle all that up in one character, and I lose a bit of buy-in as the reader.
Multiply that by 4 sixth grade characters and the whole thing feels more like reading a book than living a story.
When I read, I like to feel like I'm in the story. Everything needs to fit together so I'm not jostled out of the flow... this novel kicked me out of the flow repeatedly. I kept shaking my head and saying to myself, "This doesn't feel real!"
Then there's the elitist issue. Rather than deal with their real (and more interesting) issues - my parents just got divorced, I moved to a new country, I'm Indian not Native American, my family doesn't understand me, I always get overlooked because of my big brother - the protagonists of this tale spend their time sipping tea and eating tiny sandwiches. Since they are supposed to be real friends, it felt like they should be talking about their real issues and helping each other. But, nope.
Tea, sandwiches, trivia questions. The end.
I finished the book, though, and some things made me smile. So I guess that makes it worthy of:
The View From Saturday is one of my TBR Pile Challenge books for 2014. It is also part of my Classics Club Challenge. Check out my list of 50 books to be read by 2017.