The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

by E.L. Konigsburg
ISBN: 0689866364

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A Review of: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
by M.J. Fishbane

Seasoned writer, e.l.. konigsburg's The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, is a companion to Silent to the Bone. In The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, konigsburg writes in support of individualism and the commitment to fight for an ideal. Set in the early 1980s, the narrator, an older version of the protagonist Margaret Rose Kane, recollects the summer when she was twelve. What begins as a story about a girl's painful experience at overnight camp becomes a novel about the importance of art, history and the preservation of what one holds dear.
Margaret is rescued by her Uncle Alex after having a difficult time with a cliquish group of girls at Camp Talequa. Upon returning home, Margaret discovers that her beloved Towers, built by her two uncles, are scheduled to be demolished, and she becomes obsessed with the idea of stopping their destruction.
Margaret is a strong character who was taught by her uncles to think for herself. For this reason, her conduct is not always widely appreciated. When she refuses to join in some of the camp activities and is teased by the girls in her cabin, she does not succumb to the pressure of her peers or superiors. She does not cry or accuse any of the girls, nor does she report the incident. Instead, she continues to keep her distance from the others, which only aggravates the already tense situation at the camp.
The adult characters in this novel are as intriguing as Margaret herself. Jack, the seemingly dimwitted son of Mrs. Kaplan, the Camp Director, becomes one of Margaret's greatest supporters. His own story involves a struggle between artistic ideals and the practical demands of living in the real world. Margaret's uncles, her mother, and the two adults she enlists to aid her with her plan all represent the artistic dreamer. These characters are opposed by (and contrast with) Margaret's father, who thinks that the Towers were a "waste of time," the unbending Camp Director Mrs. Kaplan, and the two lawyers who want the Towers torn down. To our surprise, we soon discover that artistic souls are found in the most unlikely of people. And, given the right time and opportunity, what would seem to be the most impractical piece of art, proves itself useful.
Konigsburg endows her characters with humour and compassion. Since the narrator is an older person looking back, there is an interesting blend of innocence and wisdom. For example, when Margaret talks about her plan to change history she says: "And the choice of a single person can change future history even if that person is underage and does not have a driver's license or credit card." It should be noted that konisgburg's clever use of headlines in the middle of the chapters serves both to move the story along, and to give the scenes historical colour.
This book is funny and intelligent. The characters are courageous and admirable, and the reader will finish it hopefully cheering for the girl who does things her own way because it is the way she trusts is right. For as the character Jack says to Margaret: "We speak because we are human and because we can."

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