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The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

by E.L. Konigsburg


Book Review

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Publishers Weekly :

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This elegant, absorbing novel focuses on Margaret, half-sister of Connor (the narrator of Silent to the Bone) the summer she is 12, in 1983 (long before Connor's birth). As the novel opens, Margaret's Hungarian immigrant great-uncle Alex shows up at her summer camp to remove her mid-session. He bests the autocratic camp director as the woman attempts to demonstrate her professionalism and suggests that Margaret is "incorrigible." Konigsburg strikes just the right balance: Uncle Alex, Margaret and, by extension, the audience, are immediately allied against the forces of pomposity and falsehood. En route to the house Uncle Alex shares with his brother (Margaret's parents, professors, are working in Peru), Margaret, who narrates, lets readers know that she has been bullied by her cabin mates while the camp director has been willfully blind (the heroine never does tattle). Konigsburg's fans will expect that Margaret is not simply there to be rescued, however, and it is Margaret who ends up making the biggest stand. In their backyard Uncle Alex and Uncle Morris have built extraordinary towers that have stood for 45 years (the structures inevitably evoke the Towers of Watts); now that their once-abandoned and dangerous neighborhood has been gentrified, the new residents have won a campaign to tear down the towers, arguing that they "don't fit the [district's] history." These premises lay fertile ground for penetrating discussions about how a culture defines history and art. While the novel strikes a few uncharacteristically false notes toward the end, the author offers readers so much, so well, that her book is a veritable feast, amply demonstrating how intelligence can triumph over pretense. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)

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