Most initial situations start with the beginning of the story. As Lewis Carroll wrote in The View from Saturday's favorite book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "Begin at the beginning […] and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
Not so in The View from Saturday. Konigsburg dumps us right in medias res, after all the build up to the final match and right before victory. What this means is that we have to help put the plot together ourselves. There's no tidy beginning, middle, and end. For a book about how "every voyage begins when you do" (10.6), that makes perfect sense.
There's an obvious conflict here—Epiphany vs. Maxwell—but it's not the important one. Yeah, yeah, they win the trophy and all, but that's really not what the book is about.
What to book is about is how The Souls become Mrs. Olinski's team, and it takes five mini-conflicts to get there: Noah learning to be unselfish; Nadia learning to accept the divorce; Mrs. Olinski learning to let go of her "pain and rage" (5.30); Ethan learning to accept himself; Julian making the right choice. Notice who the antagonist is in each little conflict, too: a Soul. Every man (or woman) against himself.
The last one is always the hardest. Mrs. Olinski settles on the first three team members pretty easily, but the fourth one is giving her trouble. She contemplates choosing Hamilton Knapp (bad idea, capital "B"), and then at the last minute decides on Julian.
But not, we should point out, before he's decided to choose her in a typically cryptic way: "You see, this monkey can balance on any one of its four limbs" (4.16). Somehow, Ethan—who must be smarter than we are—figures out that this means Julian wants The Souls to help Mrs. Olinski.
Okay, this one's a little tricky. Since the plot is broken up into so many pieces, it's not easy to tell exactly which moment is the climax. But our money, if we had any, would be on the moment Mrs. Olinski decides to choose Julian. Check out what happens:
The Souls continued their animated conversation, when suddenly, as if on signal, the four of them looked back at Mrs. Olinski.
And that is when she knew.
That is the exact moment she knew that Julian Singh would be the fourth member of her team and that she would always give good answers when asked why she had chosen them. (5.36-38)
Notice that The Souls look at her first. They're the ones who form the team, and they're the ones whose "courteous" behavior convinces her that these are, in fact, the sixth-grade saviors she's been looking for (5.36).
Okay, but why in the world does it matter if an Academic Bowl team—or any team—is courteous? It would make way more sense for them to be smart, well-informed, knowledgeable, even cutthroat if it give them an advantage.
Well, it's in the rules:
"Answering before a question was completed or having several kids answer at once were violations of the rules that would cost points" (7.12). In other words—being discourteous violates the rules. So, it makes perfect sense that Mrs. Olinski chooses her team based on their behavior. In Academic Bowl, what you know is less important than how you show that you know it.
This is a classic game of suspense. Maxwell and Epiphany "ping-pong" back and forth (10.1), neither able to pull ahead enough to guarantee a win.
You know this scene. The camera switches to slo-mo, the music rises (or stops all together), the quarterback/batter/goalie/archer takes a deep breath, and everyone in the audience stops munching the popcorn. We've cheered on the underdogs all through their meteoric rise, and now it's the match point that will win (or lose) the game.
Okay, so this particularly suspenseful moment, revolving around Through the Looking Glass, is maybe not as exciting as a championship football game. But at this point in the novel, we actually find ourselves starting to care.
"Win some. Lose some" (11.2). Mrs. Olinski seems way less excited about winning that you'd think—and notice that we don't hear anything about how The Souls feel. Nada. As far as we know, they could be crying themselves to sleep over their win.
That's because the game was never the important thing. The denouement isn't concerned with the Academic Bowl victory but with figuring out what it was that brought The Souls together in the first place. Luckily, Mr. Singh is there to help Mrs. Olinski think it through. She asks him how she chose The Souls, and he lays it right out: "The Souls have all returned from a journey" (11.15).
Gee, thanks for clearing that up.
Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for. The big answer to Mrs. Olinski's big question: "Did I choose you, or did you choose me?" (12.4). The answer? "Yes!" (12.5).
Okay, so it's not exactly an Academic-Bowl-approved answer. But it really does clear things up, we promise. The thing is, there's no choosing without being chosen. (Yeah, clear as mud, right?) What we mean is, the question misses the point. The point is the answer. And the answer is Yes!