But you're not going to find any Hail Mary passes, or last-minute cheerleading triumphs, or even catchy song-and-dance numbers, because this is a book about something totally, direly uncool: Academic Bowl. And we here at Shmoop say that out of love, since, you know, one or two of us just might have found ourselves buzzing in at some pretty nerdy competitions.
As Noah Gershom would say—fact: No one is ever going to win the pretty girl by knowing what the waste product of photosynthesis is. (Oxygen.) That was as true when the book was published in 1996 (and when it won the Newbery Award in 1997) as it is today.
But in The View from Saturday, these unlikely academic all-stars win something better. They win respect. They win dignity. They win the pleasure of knowing themselves to be kind, gracious, and mature: three adjectives that just about no one has ever applied to 11-year-olds. (No offense to any of those who are, were, or will someday be 11 years old.) And, yeah, they win friends.
Maybe you're eleven years old right now. Maybe you were in the not-too-distant past, or will be in the not-too-distant future. Maybe middle school was a long time ago, but you still cringe whenever you think about that time the cool girl told you that your backpack was a funny color. (Ahem.)
The point is, the feeling that Ethan, Nadia, Julian, and Noah share—that their world is slowly, inexorably changing; that the old rules don't apply anymore; that everyone is operating according to some textbook that you didn't get assigned on the first day of life—this is a feeling that everyone, and we mean everyone, knows.
Try answering these questions for the win: As the world changes around you, how do you stay true to yourself while still being part of a group? How do you find friends who bring out the best in you? How do you learn to be kind in a world that wants you to be cruel?
Whether you're an 11-year-old farmer, or a middle-aged paraplegic, or a Shmooper of indeterminate origin, these are questions that matter. As it turns out, E. L. Konigsburg thinks they matter a lot more than the Academic Bowl questions that the kids answer. And if these are questions you've ever asked yourself (or had anyone else ask you), then this is a book to pull off the shelf—and maybe more than once.