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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Once I settled into this writer's style (it took a chapter), I enjoyed it to the end. It's mostly a delightful romp of a book with minor rough edges. The light-hearted pokes at multiculturalism did not hurt.

Mrs. Olinski is a wheelchair-bound teacher who appoints 4 students to be her homeroom representatives for the academic bowl: Nadia, Noah, Ethan, and Julian. The story shifts from the point-of-view of one character to the next, each shift of narration painting a fuller picture of the connections and relationships of these four students as well as their teacher.

What makes the plot of this story unique and elevates it to superior is the theme of kindness vs. malice and how each character faces and chooses to counter the ugliness found in human nature.

Some minor bumps: the mention of 6th grade girls whose bra straps show. The reason it's mentioned was reasonable: they weren't being fashionable but signaling they were entering puberty. There are grandparents who marry and a rejoinder to the question of how you can play the same music over and over made grandma blush: "How can you stand making love to the same woman over and over?" One character with divorced parents is described as "not accustomed to being around married people who like each other." There is a TV talk show with the title: "Mom's who Flirt with their Daughter's Boyfriends." Fortunately, that's all that's mentioned. Last, the school bully writes, "I am an ass," on Julian's backpack. This is dealt with cleverly and graciously by Julian.

I thought I detected a flavor of Eastern mysticism. It's a bit strange how the Indian character in a turban is able to tell the teacher matter-of-factly about her thinking and decisions in choosing her academic team when she had not shared them with him. There's nothing overt about it, it just put my antennae on alert. I couldn't find a directly objectionable statement, but though the term "pyschic" is not used, it comes to mind when the Indian character does a mind-reading stunt...

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