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The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a paean to nonconformity and determined individuality. Not all parents may agree with the values being promoted here, and camp counselors may not appreciate the depiction of summer camp. But agree or disagree, there's a lot to discuss: what do we owe to ourselves and our groups, what is the place of obedience, how should one resist enforced conformity, what is the essence of neighborhood and of art, are there limits to individual property rights, and much more. Konigsburg doesn't hide her opinions, nor in either style or structure does she make things easy for the reader, so this is best for advanced discussion groups. Interested students may want to research the Watts Towers.
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What's the story?
Margaret Rose Kane comes by her individualism naturally -- her uncles cling to old-fashioned, old-world values, and have spent forty-five years building towers in their backyard. At summer camp, the more they try to get Margaret to conform, the more she resists. When she is rescued by her uncles, she finds that they too are under siege by the forces of conformity -- and about to give up.
The new neighbors in their newly gentrified neighborhood have convinced the town to order the demolition of the towers. Margaret gathers what allies she can and goes to war with the town. But her greatest allies will come from the most unexpected source.
Is it any good?
This book presents a challenge for inexperienced readers, an ending that may disappoint some, and a unique and fascinating literary creation that flows like a page-turner.
Some things about E.L. Konigsburg never change. She has a profound respect for the intelligence of her characters, who are nearly always brilliant, quirky, and mature children, determined to hold on to their individuality in the face of a conformist society. She also respects the intelligence of her audience and, while she does sometimes preach, she never talks down to them or dumbs down her writing or ideas.
This respect for her audience has led her to experiment in her last few novels with increasingly complex structures, and that is certainly evident here. Margaret, the narrator as well as heroine, leaps around in time and space with gleeful abandon, and hunks of chapters are headed with bits of quotes from characters earlier in the story. There are parallels between different parts of the story, literary and historical references, and characters who pop in and out and in again. After the disappointment of Silent to the Bone, it's great to see Konigsburg back in top form.