Konigsburg has won two Newbery Awards, one for Mixed-Up Files and then 29 years later for The View from Saturday, which are coincidentally (or not) the only two books of hers I'd read prior to beginning this quest, I set the expectations bar pretty high. The results were honestly all over the spectrum from ones I expect never to revisit to those I intend to purchase and/or recommend to other readers.
The friendship shared by the two boys is lovely, and Konigsburg makes it a point to include details about little parts of their bond that reminded me of games I used to play with my childhood friends. Connor and Branwell (the friend and the 911 caller, respectively) play a game called "Summarize In A Sentence" or SIAS. They give each other points for doing a good job describing, using big words, avoiding (or sometimes including) cliches, and using fewer articles. Also, I was excited to learn what "Blue Peter" meant as well as what a havelock is. The former is a blue flag with a white square in the center which indicates in sailing that the boat is ready to depart and the best friends would use it to signal that they were ready to begin something. A havelock is, and I know this will probably blow your mind if you never knew it, that hat that has a large piece of cloth hanging down the back to cover your neck. If you already knew that, you're probably smarter than I am, or at least have a more extensive vocabulary.
Silent to the Bone also contained a heartfelt conversation between Connor and his adult half-sister about love. Here it is:
"Connor, suppose for this Christmas I give you something very beautiful--say, a beautiful ivory carving."
"I wouldn't mind," I said.
"This gift has been made with care and given to you to keep forever. It is intricately and deeply carved. There are no rough edges. All of it is polished, and all of it is pure ivory."
"What would be wrong with that?"
"Nothing would be wrong with it if it came with instructions and a warning."
"That it must be oiled now and then or it will get brittle and pieces will break off."
"And what's the warning?"
"That ivory comes from a living organism, so it is bound to change as it ages. Ivory darkens. A day comes when you have to put this beautiful thing away. So not knowing about maintenance and aging, you put it in a drawer and close the drawer. Time goes by, and the gift giver wants to see his gift. So you take it out of the drawer, and both of you are surprised that it isn't what it was. It doesn't look the same. Without maintenance, delicate pieces have broken off, and some of the places where the carving was very deep have darkened to the color of a tobacco stain. You haven't been careless; you have just never been warned about the changes that happen with time, and you haven't been taught proper maintenance. But you know one thing--you are never going to put this gift on display again."
Margaret and I looked at each other. "You're talking about love, aren't you?"
"I knew I didn't have a dummy for a brother."
"Are you basing all this on the way you felt about Dad and the divorce?"
"What else would I Have to base it on, Connor?"
"But, Margaret, it wasn't Dad's fault if his gift changed with time. You said yourself when something comes from a living organism, it is bound to change as it ages. Well, love comes from two living organisms. You should expect twice as many changes."
Margaret stared at her computer screen. "I wasn't warned." (124-126)
I loved the comparison of a relationship to an ivory carving, and it absolutely reminded me that I have a lot of friendships slowly breaking apart in a drawer that I need to take care of. Some of the most moving aspects of books for me are the relationships that were and no longer are--deceased parents, former friends, lost loves, etc.
I definitely recommend this one for a solid read about boy/boy friendship, adolescence and puberty, and especially what it means to be ashamed. (4/5 stars)
I am very annoyed with myself that I did not take any pictures of the illustrations from these two books as Konigsburg illustrated much of her work. In unrelated news, the cover of Samuel Todd's Book of Great Inventions is so old-school awesome--the back is a mirror image of the front! (Why have I never seen something like this before?!) First published in 1948, which is pretty remarkable considering Konigsburg was 18 at the time and my mother had yet to be born (just for personal perspective), Samuel Todd is just a quick collection of drawings and descriptions of little inventions that catch one boy's interest. I can totally see how this book could spawn some great parent-child conversations about inventing and what the child thinks are amazing inventions. I know I am writing this too late in the evening when I am sitting here laughing at the idea of Konigsburg writing an updated 2012 version of the book where she attempts to draw and succinctly write about (SIAS!) newfangled inventions like satellite radio, toaster waffles, and Keurig coffee machines. (3-3.5/5 stars)
"Ned finds it on the beach near his home in Florida. Antonio discovers it in the back of a bus on the Pan American Highway. Avery learns it over a period of years, but needs his brother Orville to put it into words for him. Phillip gradually recognizes it among the people who live in the old folks' home in his town. William always had it, but finds that he must help his mother to regain it.
What is it that Ned, Antonio, Avery, Phillip, and William all discover? A sense of Self. Each learns something new about his identity by means of an encounter with a person or persons different from himself. In each of these lives something happens that allows the hero to throw a shadow of his very own, one that is sharp and has a shape as specific as a fingerprint. And each must either accept that shadow or learn to accept it, or recognize that he himself can make the changes that will turn the shadow into one he would prefer.
Once more E.L. Konigsburg has caught the essence of what life is, and what lies at the core of the people who live it best."
Firstly, I thought it was very weird that the entire family treated the spoiled, bratty sister as having slower mental processes, behavioral issues, and as physically differently-abled. It isn't entirely clear which of these things are actually happening, or to what extent. By the end of the book, Hillary/Heidi (the younger sister in question) is running a business and seems totally with it. She only excels after "Caroline" comes back and secretly starts taking Heidi to special education. The other part of the book I felt really awkward about was the ending. I already warned you about spoilers, but it turns out that Caroline isn't really Caroline. She is a woman with no family who took care of her "dad"'s mother in hospice care and learned all about the missing girl. She had the blessing of the grandmother for the most part, and the main character (Winston) finds out as an adult that his father knew Caroline wasn't really his daughter but was so deficient in the love area that Caroline and he thought it better to continue posing as father and daughter to give him an escape from his wife and to give Winston and Heidi the love and guidance they need from an older sister. Okay, that's kind of weird, especially because it is pretty explicitly stated that had Winston and Heidi not been in the picture that Caroline and Winston's father might've, you know, taken things to the next level. You know that thing when a woman shows up pretending to be your long lost sister and then helps your sister overcome her disabilities and is sexually attracted to your dad but lives the rest of her life pretending to be your sister to be a positive role model in your life? I just played SIAS for Father's Arcane Daughter. (3/5 stars)
The thing about this book, and really all of Konigsburg's work is that it is well-written and engaging. She writes compelling mysteries that are meant for young people but which still entertain adults. She inserts realities and negative events to keep it realistic and I love her work for it. The ratings for these first few books are mostly around a 3 or so but I'm so happy that I've finished a large portion of her work and I'm really looking forward to finishing them off.
Have you read any of her books? What did you think of them?