Book Review: The View From Saturday

Konigsburg, E.L. The View From Saturday. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1996.

–Noah, who quite by accident was best man at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather
–Nadia, a hybrid with a halo of red hair, a dog that’s a genius, and a fondness for baby turtles
–Ethan, the silent second son of one of Epiphany’s oldest families, who discovers he likes halos
–Julian, the strangest person on the school bus, who starts everything by inviting the others to a tea party

How did Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching ten years after being paralyzed in an automobile accident, choose these four to be her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? And how did this unlikely foursome become even unlikelier champions, in far more than just the state middle school competition? The View From Saturday is a rich and rewarding journey that answers these questions and raises many more.

E.L. Konigsburg is one of just five authors to win two Newbery Awards. Since I re-read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler last week, I thought it would be good to read her other winning book now. I was not very optimistic, I’ll admit. I abso-freaking-lutely love Mixed-Up Files, and I was sure that despite the award, The View From Saturday would not live up to the hype. You see, this one is on a local school’s booklist, which judging on my experience usually means (stereotypically, yes) that it’s a horrible book. Not always, but often enough to sway my instincts.

I have to say, it took me a while to get into this book. There were a few parts I found myself zoning out – the beginnings of Noah’s and Nadia’s stories – and I had to go back and try again. However, once I realized that Nadia’s father and grandfather were the same as the father/son mentioned in Noah’s story, I was intrigued. When Julian showed up in Nadia’s story, and I knew from reading the back cover of the book that he would turn out to be another main character, I was hooked.

The story is complex. First there is the main storyline. Sixth graders Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian are competing in the Academic Bowl at the state level. Their teacher Mrs. Olinski watches from the audience. A question is asked, Noah answers, and then we begin Noah’s flashback sequence. It’s a story that doesn’t seem to connect to the Academic Bowl at all, and at first I was very confused. Then we are back to the stage, and Nadia fields the next question. Then we go into her flashback, and after a while we realize that her grandfather is the man who got married in Noah’s story. Then we are back to the stage again. It keeps skipping around back and forth between the kids’ stories (which eventually becomes one common story) and the Acedemic Bowl and Mrs. Olinski’s road to the Bowl herself. By the end everything is pretty clear, but at the beginning it just seems disjointed.

Once I got a feel for the back and forth rhythm of the story, I did enjoy it. But it took me a while to get there. The flashback sequences were long, which helped. I almost forgot about the Academic Bowl once or twice because it’s really more of a background. The past events are far more important to the novel than the present. Which is why the title is The View From Saturday. The last things that occur in the novel take place on a Saturday after the Academic Bowl, and Mrs. Olinski is learning things that the kids knew, but that she did not. The idea is that looking back from the end, things make sense in a way you can not always see along the way. The novel is one long illustration of the phrase “hindsight is 20/20” – and within the novel there are a few microcosmic illustrations of it as well, like when Noah doesn’t want to write a letter to his grandparents, but by the end of the story he has seen things differently and is happy to write to them.

Overall, it started slow but turned out to be a good book. However, I will not read it again any time soon, possibly ever.