The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World



Brilliant writing for brilliant kids.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Quotes from an art catalog give Hitler's racist views about Blacks and Jews.


References to spousal abuse, suicide, and Van Gogh's ear.


References to sperm, a prostitute, nude portraits, mating lovebugs, and fans who want to sleep with a star. A character is homosexual.


"Damn," "hell," references to "the S word" and "the F word."


Department store, fast food.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Mrs. Zender drinks champagne.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there are mentions of matters sexual and violent, but they're nothing more than glancing references. There is some mild swearing.

What's the story?

Soon after moving to a small town in the Florida panhandle, Amadeo meets some intriguing characters. There's schoolmate William, who "had a self-assurance that inspired awe or fear or both." And there's his neighbor, Mrs. Zender: "Amadeo had never seen anyone dressed like that except when he was in an audience."

Mrs. Zender, about to move into a retirement community, has hired William's mother, an estate liquidator. Amadeo, fascinated by both of them, and hoping one day to make an important discovery, volunteers to help with sorting through the mansion. Meanwhile, his godfather, Peter, a museum curator, is preparing for an exhibition of art considered degenerate by the Nazis. This gives Amadeo the background to recognize a mystery both artistic and historical among the fragments of Mrs. Zender's strange life.

Is it any good?


The story is gorgeous and fascinating, but subtle. E.L. Konigsburg is not one to spell everything out for her readers, preferring instead to leave arch and tantalizing hints so that they can figure things out for themselves. All the classic Konigsburg themes are here: precociously gifted children, mystery, art history, a brilliantly flamboyant and cantankerous old woman, and deep friendship. 

This is not for everyone, or even for most. Konigsburg expects her experienced readers to be equally clever as her gifted characters, to be comfortable with ambiguity and sophisticated vocabulary (or at least willing to look things up), and to be willing to think. If that describes your child, he or she may love this. If it doesn't, but you wish it did, a better place to start would be the author's more accessible From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the general historical background, and Hitler's specific views of art. Why would controlling art have been so important to a dictator like Hitler? Why would others risk their lives for it? What could make a painting so important? Also, the author is sometimes very subtle, and even gifted readers may need some help sorting out the story.

Book details

Author:E. L. Konigsburg
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Publication date:September 1, 2007
Number of pages:244
Read aloud:10
Read alone:11

This review of The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 14 years old Written bymissolivia March 29, 2010

Maybe for an education-seeking, artistic pre-teen

Parents might want their kids to read this book because it is, by most parents' standards, clean. However, I found this book utterly boring. I am a fourteen year old female and I was assigned this book for a class. It took me a bit longer to read this book than it normally takes me to read most books, and I did not find it interesting. It is basically about two boys (preteens? teens?) that help an elderly lady clean out her house. The author makes some brief references to the Holocaust era and frequently talks about opera and art. It contains some swear words and brief talks about homosexuality, which may bother some parents. I consider it a boring book with some slight educational values.
Parent Written byjuliel1 March 1, 2015

Content for the mature, not a children's book

Characters portrayed for the mature. Cconversations about how Mrs. Zender would always play a "boy or a bitch" and how her fans "all wanted to sleep with me", up the ante right there. Additionally, "I am a homosexual, "I am a homosexual too." I'm concerned Common Sense didn't review this book.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 10 years old April 9, 2008

Most awesome book for pre-teens

the most awesomest book ever


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