Kids' Books: 'The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place'
THE OUTCASTS OF 19 SCHULYER PLACE
by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, $16.95; grades 4 and up.)
Over a period of four weeks, 12-year-old Margaret Rose Kane stages a revolt at Camp Talequa, chains herself to a scaffold of sorts, gets arrested in her uncles’ backyard, and learns of her parents’ impending divorce. She also discovers the woman she wants to be in this coming-of-age story that mixes not-so-subtle social commentary with carpe diem spirit.
When Margaret’s parents decide to join a summer archaeological dig in Peru, they allow their daughter to pick a camp for herself. She chooses Talequa, where she bunks alongside a group of four friends known as the Alums, who’ve attended the camp together for three years. Margaret resists their clique—she refuses, for example, to accept a silly nickname—and is branded "incorrigible" after saying she "prefers" not to join the regimented camp activities. Mrs. Kaplan, the camp director who insists on using the royal "we" for all occasions, appeals to one of Margaret’s uncles for advice. He solves the problem by taking his miserable niece home.
Margaret is thrilled to be living with her two bachelor uncles, Alexander and Morris Rose, in their home on Schuyler Place. She loves the way they dote on her and appreciates their Old World Hungarian habits, such as wearing Borsalino hats instead of baseball caps and eating meals off of fine china and white linens. Most of all, though, Margaret adores her uncles’ art. For the past 45 years—as the city has changed around them, and as their watchmaking expertise has become obsolete—they’ve been piecing together three towers made of steel, old clock parts, and shards of broken glass. Built in their narrow backyard, the towers stand taller than any other structure in the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, the Home Owners Association, with an eye on property values, considers the towers a "blight." And the Redevelopment Authority, which has renamed the once-cozy residential area "Old Town," has convinced the city to pay for the towers’ demolition.
Margaret knows the towers to be beautiful, irreplaceable, and an intrinsic part of the neighborhood. With the same independence and resolve that made her an outcast at camp, she sets out to defeat the city council. She is also aided by former neighborhood residents and (unexpectedly) some Talequa campers.
Konigsburg fans who read Silent to the Bone will recognize Margaret Rose Kane as Connor’s half-sister. Outcasts, however, is much more than a prequel. In an author’s note, the Newbery Award-winning author explains that Margaret "refused to leave me." A humorous yet dramatic character-driven novel, wonderfully rich in allusions and symbolism, is the result.
"Uncle Alex had said that you can’t stop history from happening because the entire past tense is history," Margaret muses at one point. "But the future is choices. And 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. I thought about Joan of Arc (but not her fate) and Anne Frank (but not her fate either)."
Readers will not soon forget Margaret’s choices, and they may choose to follow her lead.
Vol. 15, Issue 6, Page 58Published in Print: May 1, 2004, as Kids' Books