And Then I Read: THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHUYLER PLACE

Image and book © E.L. Konigsburg.

I’ve read several books by Konigsburg over the years, beginning with her first big hit and Newbery Medal winner, “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” which came out, and which I read in 1967. All of her books focus on people, both the young people that are the protagonists, and others. Her perception of human nature is vast, and she’s particularly good at narrators who are very smart, but perhaps don’t tell the reader all the details, allowing those details to come together as the book progresses. This may sound a bit frustrating, but in fact Konigsburg’s fine writing makes it all the more intriguing. There are always mysteries to be explored, and the journey is fascinating.

Margaret Rose Kane is 12, and at a difficult point in her life. It’s summer, her parents are away in South America on an expedition, and her beloved bachelor uncles who usually take her in whenever needed, don’t seem to want her either this time, so she’s sent off to camp. There she has a miserable time, housed with a group of friends who torment the newcomer, and all the more when Margaret Rose puts up a strong campaign of passive resistance, not only to the other girls, but to everyone in camp, including the director. Unable to cope, Mrs. Kaplan, the camp director, calls one of the girl’s uncles, who comes and rescues her. The man who drives them home, the maintenance man for the camp, turns out to be a much more interesting person away from camp, and he’s invited in for dinner. He’s an artist, and becomes a friend.

Margaret’s uncles, Morris and Alexander, have three very unusual structures in their yard, three massive towers they built and decorated with wild paint colors and dangling prisms and glass pieces. These towers have been their lifelong project for the last 45 years, but they no longer fit in with their now upscale neighbors, mostly lawyers, who have put a plan to tear the towers down through the city council. When Margaret finds out about this, she begins a fierce campaign to save the structures she loves, helped by her friend from the camp, and other old friends from the neighborhood. It’s a brilliant campaign, but it seems to be failing…or is it?

Konigsburg not only writes well, she writes about things that matter, such as personal freedom, artistic freedom, and doing what’s right even if it goes against the rules, all without being even slightly preachy. Highly recommended.

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