The Devil's Arithmetic: Jane Yolen
The Diamond in the Window: Jane Langton

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place: E. L. Konigsburg

My next 48 Hour Book Challenge entry is The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, by E. L. Konigsburg. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is the story of Margaret Rose Kane, sent off to summer camp while her parents travel in Peru. A clique of girls and an unsympathetic camp director make Margaret's camp experience miserable. Fortunately, Margaret's Great-Uncle Alex rescues her, and takes her to the home that he shares with his brother Morris, at 19 Schuyler Place. Margaret loves her uncles, and their home. She especially loves the three whimsical and breathtaking towers that they have built in their back yard over the past 45 years. She realizes in Chapter 7 that "(l)ike a kiss or a walk in the woods, the towers were meant to be experienced, not inventoried", and she takes them as they are.

Before long, however, Margaret realizes that something is amiss at 19 Schuyler Place. Her uncles are cranky, and they aren't doing their usual summer work on the towers. Margaret is aghast to learn that the city has called for the destruction of the towers, allegedly for the sake of safety, but really for the sake of gentrification of the neighborhood. By the time Margaret learns about it, the towers have only 9 days left until their scheduled destruction.

But instead of giving in to despair, Margaret fights to save the beloved towers. She knows instinctively the three steps required to change something: 1) being unhappy with the way things are; 2) having a desire to change things; and 3) having a plan. I'm not sure how a 12-year-old would know this, but I think that it's a wonderful thing to include in a book for a 12-year-old (or a 38 year-old or a 99-year-old) to a read. Margaret muses: "(a)nd the choices of a single person can change future history even if that person is underage and does not have a driver's license or a credit card."

And so Margaret sets out, with a band of unlikely and unlike allies, to save the towers. One aspect that I liked about The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is that it doesn't gloss over the details, like handling calls of nature from awkward situations, and the cruel nicknames that young girls can have for one another. The story has humor, quirky characters, and a range of range of personalities. Margaret experiences triumphs and setbacks, friendship and heartache. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is well-written, without talking down to the reader, and relays a strong positive message to kids without ever feeling like a "message book". I recommend it for summer reading.

Book: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
Author: E. L. Konigsburg
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
Original Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 296
Age Range: 9 to 12
Time Spent: 2 1/2 hours

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