Finally, I have read something worth doing a book review, or read something that I was actually interested in doing a book review on. And it happens to be middle grade. Don’t bash those books for younger folks, there are some real gems among them.
Presenting ‘The View from Saturday’ by E. L. Konigsburg.
How has Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? (yes) How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team? It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen? (yeah, not that many people do in the book)
It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die. (well duh, what heartless maniac would let turtles die?) It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. (disaster? what disaster? Oh yeah, eh. It was of small size) And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.
Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. (piffle, she never thinks that) What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.
This is a tale about a team, a class, a school, a series of contests and, set in the midst of this, four jewel-like short stories (I wouldn’t call them short stories, they felt more like chapters to me)— one for each of the team members — that ask questions and demonstrate surprising answers.
I have seen this book on list after list of books that you-absolutely-must-read-before-you-die. I finally got around to it, I read it before I died. Yay me.
I don’t think I would have liked it in middle school. At that age I was more about fairies than a thoughtful book about relationships and people.
If you liked ‘Bridge to Terebithia’, you will like this book, and ‘The View From Saturday’ has the bonus of having a much happier ending.
While yes, the Academic Bowl was a big part of the book, it wasn’t about the Academic Bowl. There were no extended scenes of them practicing, nothing said about the nerves of the students before the contests.
Mostly, the book was about the four kids, Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian. Each of their stories was a journey, a deeply personal journey for each of them that intertwined with each others in sometimes unexpected ways.
I really enjoyed seeing each character from the other point of view, and how one character who might be annoying to some, is endearing to another. I also liked the chance to be inside each of the characters heads. It was an interesting study from a writers perspective in how the author made each point of view so distinct. You would never mess up whose point of view it was. They were each so unique.
My favorite character was Ethan. I loved his rich inner world, and the sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected places that his thoughts led him. But while he was quiet, he was not passive. He impacted the world around him whether he liked or not. They all did.
After you get a chapter with each of the kids, you settle into Mrs. Olinski’s point of view. Their teacher and coach in the Academic Bowl who is also on a journey of her own. A long one that started way before the book began. She is a very nostalgic sort of person, and the whole book feels that way. Like the whole story is being told by Mrs. Olinski after she has retired from teaching. She has a wistful smile and a faraway look as she tells you the story, and as she tells it you almost wish you could sit down for tea with the Souls. (Almost? Ha. Totally wish.)
And there were turtles. I love turtles, and therefore enjoyed the book.