The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, winner of the 1997 Newbery Medal.
If I ever have to go to the proverbial desert island, this book will be in the waterproof trunk I pack. I do not even know where to begin to explain to you why I love this book, why I think everyone should read it.
But I’ll try.
First, I love the story structure. The first half of the book is comprised of four first-person short stories, each narrated by a different character, held together by short (and I do mean short) chapters about a state academic competition.
As the stories unfold, you learn that these characters are all tied to one another, that they are all on the same team competing for the state championship, and that they all have the same “lesson” to learn, though in vastly different circumstances.
The second half of the book has an omniscient narrator who recounts the team’s journey from school champions to state champions.
I know, I know. I’ve made it sound rather boring. It’s not. Even though you know from the first page that this team makes it to the state meet, somehow the story of how they get there is still suspenseful. I’m not sure how Konigsburg pulls that one off, but she does it beautifully and brilliantly.
Second, I love the characters. These are the kinds of kids I hope my children grow up to be: kind and smart and courteous and loyal.
I also love seeing these characters from multiple perspectives. Each of The Souls (the team members) narrates one of the short stories, so as a reader, you get to hear their voice, their words, their view of the world. In the other Souls’ stories, you see them from a different perspective. In the omniscient narrator’s portion of the book, you see them from the perspective of their teacher and coach, Mrs. Olinski.
Speaking of Mrs. Olinski: she’s one of the main characters of the book and we see much of the competition story from her perspective—an interesting choice in a book for young adults. But her character arc is not unlike the children’s; she has similar challenges to face and choices to make, which makes her compelling and likeable, even if she is an adult and a teacher.
Third, I love the way Konigsburg ties all the characters and all the story lines together. This is not a collection of interlocking short stories. It is a novel (with, admittedly, a highly unusual structure) because of the overarching story arc about the state academic competition and because of the thematic ties between that story and each of the four short stories.
I suspect that in most writing workshops, this book would have been torn to shreds. It violates pretty much all of the so-called rules for writing contemporary novels, especially for children. Lots of point-of-view shifts. Lots of flashbacks in big chunks. Lots of skipping around in the story’s timeline. Lots of understatement. All of which are no-nos. And yet—it works. It’s hard to imagine it any other way. Part of what makes it compelling and beautiful is its structure, its omniscience, its suspenseful dropping of one story to pick up another before circling back to the first, and its understatement. Though the story is woven together tightly on a surface level, its thematic unity reinforces and deepens the oneness of all the disparate parts.
Finally, I love that this book makes me laugh and cry. I love that even though I’ve read it before, I’m still swept up into the story. And I love the feeling of all-rightness I have when I finish it.