Look, it's not like there's much suspense here. We don't know for sure that The Souls are going to win, but we're not exactly biting our nails over it. It's not that the underdogs never lose, but they don't lose very often.
So the point really isn't that they won. Yeah, they're happy. But the book doesn't end with a big team dinner or a group hug or even a laid-back high five. It ends with a bunch of kids sitting in front of a teacher and saying "Yes!" (12.4).
That "Yes!" isn't exactly a celebration (like "Yes! We won!). It's an answer, and here's the question, straight from Mrs. Olinski's mouth: "Did I choose you, or did you choose me?" (12.4).
If you're shaking your finger right now and saying "But it wasn't a yes-or-no question!," let us direct you to the very opening of the book. The Souls and Mrs. Olinski are arguing about whether they were The Souls or a team first, when they finally all agree "that they were arguing chicken-or-egg. Whichever way it began—chicken-or-egg, team-or-The Souls—it definitely ended with an egg. Definitely, an egg" (1.3).
Not so fast, folks. By the end of the book, it turns out that the answer to "chicken or egg?" is…"Yes!"
See, the point of the ending is that "Which came first?" is the wrong question. That's the kind of question that a "dressed, brushed, coiffed, and blow-dried" school commissioner would ask at an academic bowl competition (2.3), which is to say that it really doesn't matter. Yes. The academic competition doesn't matter. It's totally incidental to the main point of the book, which is that this ragtag band of misfits has not only helped each other and themselves, they've helped Mrs. Olinski, as well.
In other words, the "yes!" is a big ol' affirmation of life. Yes, Noah is going to stop being so uptight. Yes, Nadia is going to move on from her parents' divorce. Yes, Ethan is going to learn to make friends. Yes, Julian is going to adjust to his new culture. Yes, Mrs. Olinski is going to heal—emotionally, if not physically—from her devastating accident. Placing blame, which is really essentially the question of the chicken or the egg, is so beside the point. After all, what's a chicken without an egg?
Hey, lighting round for the Shmoop Bowl bonus point: What other famous work of literature ends with a character saying "yes"? Answer: James Joyce's Ulysses.
Okay, so granted that a world-famous work of twentieth-century modernism might not seem to have much to do with a kid's book, even if that kid's book did win a Newbery Medal. But that's the fun part of literary criticism—making connections and seeing if they work. So let's check this one out. Ulysses is roughly based on the myth of Odysseus, who made a name for himself as an epic wanderer.
Hmm, can you think of few—okay, five—other people who have been on epic journeys recently?