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The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceReview - The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
Audiobook read by Molly Ringwald
by E. L. Konigsburg
Listening Library, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jun 10th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 24)

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.

 

Christian 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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