At long last, I return with a review of one of my favorite books out of all of the Newbery medalists and in general. E.L. Konigsburg has a knack for writing characters with depth and humor, characters you wish you knew in real life, or maybe - if you're lucky - ones like people you do know.
The basic plot is told mostly in flashback. The story begins with a statewide middle school quiz bowl competition, and we are told that the four competitors from Epiphany Middle School (great name) are the first sixth graders to ever make it that far. The rest of the book tells us the backstory of each of The Souls as well as their coach and teacher Mrs. Olinkski, the journeys they make, how they become friends, and the path they take to get to the finals. The mystery to be solved throughout is why exactly Mrs. Olinkski picked these four children for her team, and how it changes them all.
First of all, I love stories of kids who are intelligent, interesting, and above all, kind. In fact kindness becomes a sort of theme of the book, but I won't get into that too much so as not to give away the ending.
Secondly, I think I adore this book because it's about a group of friends, and deep down I've always liked the idea (and the fact) of belonging to a tight-knit group of kindred spirits. Now that I live far from most family and friends, I find that I long for this - and both love and hate reading about it - even more than I did when I had such a circle in college.
But back to the book... it's filled with moments that make you want to cheer, funny exchanges between characters, and of course great vocabulary. So without further ado:
Favorite quotes:"The fact was that Mrs. Olinski did not know how she had chosen her team, and the further face was that she didn't know that she didn't know until she did know. Of course that is true of most things: you do not know up to and including the very last second before you do." (p. 1) I love this quote for two reasons: The first sentence sets up the mystery of the story, and the second is such a true statement about life.
"Mother then made a remark about how Western Civilization was in a decline because people of my generation knew how to nitpick but not how to write a B & B letter." (p. 5) A B&B letter is explained as a bread and butter letter thanking someone for having you as a houseguest. I thought this exchange between Noah and his mom was hilarious, and it turns out that many people in the book give their reasons for the decline of Western Civilization, all of which are funny.
"When we finally got together, I thought we would have fun. We did not. Either I had changed, or they had changed, or all of us had. I would not try again. I conclued that many friendships are born and maintained for purely geographical reasons." (p. 29) This is an observation by Nadia, and really I wish I'd been that wise at the age of 12! Sometimes we prolong a "friendship" past its expiration date because we don't realize that it was, as she says, purely geographical. Smart to just move on.
"Ethan, who never said much, had a lot to say about camera angles and background music and described the star's performance as subtle. Never before in all my life had I heard a boy use the word subtle." (p. 40) This is Nadia's comment about Ethan, and it foreshadows that they will become great friends. I had to pause and reflect that I don't think I've ever heard a boy use the word "subtle" either!
"Inside me there was a lot of best friendship that no one but Ginger was using." (p. 42) Ginger is Nadia's dog, and I just love this expression of 12-year-old longing for a best friend, particularly since I know she's going to get not one but 3!
"What is there about an English accent that makes people seem more intelligent than they maybe are? And was it catchy?" (p. 67) This is what Ethan wonders when he first meets Julian, and I laughed out loud when I read it. Why does an English accent sound smarter (or at least some versions of it)? And do the British think an American accent automatically sounds dumber?
"Sometimes silence is a habit that hurts." (p. 70) This is Ethan again, who is typically very shy and quiet, so he sometimes doesn't say the things he wishes he would. I am not afflicted by a habit of silence, but having been on the receiving end of it, I know the truth of this statement cannot be denied.
"'I've never heard of someone giving someone a pet for a present without permission and then choosing that pet's name without even asking.' Nadia said, 'Well, Noah, now you have. In a single afternoon you have heard of both.'" (p. 83) The full exchange between these two is one of the funniest scenes, but I love how self-confident Nadia is that she refuses to be convinced that her actions may not have been correct just because Noah is surprised by them. Wish I'd been this self-possessed as a kid (or, well... ever)!
"She thought that maybe - just maybe - Western Civilization was in a decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o'clock." (p. 125) This explanation for the decline of Western Civilization seems a bit closer to the mark to me. I think people are too busy rushing around to make deeper connections with the people near them, not to mention the face that we move so often that it's hard to maintain the connections we do have.
There were lots of great vocabulary words in here, too, but I picked so many quotes that I decided to let that section go for now. Perhaps I'll come back and add some of the words in later.