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The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler
Place should immediately win a place among the favorites of literature for
smart children.† It is a wonderfully clever novel full of references to
literature and culture that will thrill and educate children who enjoy ideas
and are able to draw their own connections between different ideas.† It also
encourages independent thinking and actions that subvert pompous people in
authority.† And best of all, it is very funny.† All these virtues are enhanced
by Molly Ringwald's excellent reading of the audiobook.
The book's main protagonist is
Margaret Rose, a 12-year-old girl.† She has to go to summer camp in the Adirondacks
because her parents are going abroad and will not bring her with them.† She
carefully chooses the camp she wants to spend her summer at, ordering many
brochures.† But she discovers when she arrives that she has made a mistake, and
she hates it there.† The problem is that of the 8 girls in her cabin, 6 of the
others are alums, this being their third year there.† Those 6 girls make
Margaret's life a misery and she does not want to be around them.† So when she
is asked if she wants to participate in camp activities, she replies "I
prefer not to."† This infuriates the camp director, Mrs. Kaplan, who says
to Margaret Rose sentences such as "We want you to think about what you
just said," and "We want you to report to the Infirmary."†
Margaret wonders why she uses "We" for "I" and asks her
uncle Alex whether her language showed that the woman had narcissistic
personality disorder.† He replies that it simply shows that the Mrs. Kaplan
thought that she was living in a monarchy and that she was queen.† Margaret
Rose had already come to the same conclusion, and had starting singing
"God Save the Queen" when thinking about Mrs. Kaplan.
Margaret is rescued by her uncle
Alex, who takes her back to the house he shares with his brother Morris.† The
brothers are Italian and have many charming "Old World" habits.† They
are also a little eccentric, and the main sign of their creativity are the
three giant towers in their backyard that they have been constructing for the
last forty-five years.† They are made from scrap metal, shards of glass, and
porcelain.† They are wonderful pieces of art and Margaret is appalled when she
learns that the city council has ordered their demolition.†
After the scene setting, the main
plot of the novel is devoted to Margaret's plans to save the towers.† Without
giving the plot away, I will reveal my pleasure when someone points out that
the towers are "masterpieces of outsider art."† I can't think of any
other children's novel that has brought in the concept of outsider art, and
that would be reason enough to give this one a strong recommendation.† With the
pleasure that Konigsburg takes in language and the strong character of
Margaret, I can do better than that and give The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler
Place my highest recommendation.
© 2004 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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