The View from Saturday
Curtains up on the big day. After a tense series of competitions, the Epiphany Middle School has made it all the way to the final round of the New York State Academic Bowl. Their team: a group of misfit sixth-graders from Epiphany Middle School. Their opponents: eighth-grade all-stars whom we can practically see as big, mean, and smart—at least, smart in the Jeopardy! kind of way.
The first question comes: "What is the meaning of the word calligraphy and from what language does it derive?" Noah Gershom buzzes in. He has so got this.
Here's where the cool part of The View From Saturday's plot kicks in, because each of the four Epiphany team members gets to tell part of the story—and each story explains why that particular team member can answer that question. And it just so happens that Noah is something of a calligraphy expert.
Noah's Story: Last summer, Noah stayed with his grandparents in Florida while his mom and dad jetted off on a cruise. While there, Noah managed to learn calligraphy (from the Greek for "beautiful writing," BTW), facilitate a wedding, and teach some senior citizens a lesson about generosity.
Okay, so it's not tennis camp or even working a banana stand, but it still sounds like a summer you could write about on a college application essay.
When Noah's story is over, we learn some things about Mrs. Olinski, the teacher who chose this winning team. Things like, she has a sense of humor. And she's in a wheelchair. But before we get going with her story, it's back to the competition and time to hear…
Nadia's Story: Last summer, Nadia Diamondstein also went down to Florida. Reason: to visit her father, and, incidentally, her grandfather. Grandpa just so happens to be the male half of the wedding that Noah facilitated (female half: Margaret). Spooky! The difference is that Nadia used to live in Florida, but now she's had to move up to New York with her mom, since her parents just got divorced.
This isn't a great summer for Nadia. You'd think things would get better when her new step-grandmother's grandson, Ethan, comes to visit, but it just gets worse. The four of them—Ethan, Margaret, Grandpa, and dad—bond over saving turtle hatchlings, while Nadia mopes about with her genius dog Ginger. Cue life-changing storm. Seriously. There's a big storm, and Nadia has to get over herself and go help save the hatchlings with the rest of her ragtag new family. And it just so happens (again) that the question Nadia chooses to answer is about…turtles.
Back in Mrs. Olinski's story, the coincidences keep coming. Turns out, Margaret Draper—the lady Nadia's Grandpa married—used to be Mrs. Olinski's principal, back when Mrs. Olinski was a young teacher and before Mrs. Olinski was in the car crash that killed her husband and paralyzed her. With this little tidbit, it's time for another question and…
Ethan's Story: Ethan Potter rides the bus a long way to school. He rides the bus a long way because his family owns a farm, just as they have for hundreds of years. Ethan has a lot of history riding on his shoulders—not just his family's history, but the legacy of his older brother, Luke, who made life super difficult for Ethan by being awesome at pretty much everything. Teachers expect Ethan to be awesome, too, and it turns out that Ethan is basically ordinary.
Ordinary, and shy. That's why it's so surprising to Ethan when, one day, a kid sits down next to him on the bus. This kid isn't like the other kids Ethan knows. He's dark-skinned, he's got a funny accent, and he wears knee-socks. Turns out, he's Indian, and he picked up the accent in an English boarding school.
Ethan can't quite say why, but he helps Julian out when Julian starts getting bullied. They don't become friends, but Julian does invite him to tea. This is super weird, but Ethan goes anyway, and he finds out that Julian has also invited—guess who?—Noah and Nadia. The Souls are born.
Back to Mrs. Olinski for a few lines, until it's time for the next question and…
Julian's Story: Julian's story picks up after The Souls have already formed. He tells us about a play that the school is putting on (Annie), and how he helps Nadia train her dog Ginger to play Sandy, and then how he narrowly averts a mean plot that some other kids have concocted to hurt the dog.
After Julian's story ends, we're back in the thick of the competition—with brief flashbacks to the competitions leading up to the big game—until Julian brings it home with the final answer: the true name and occupation of the author of Through the Looking Glass. Victory! Trophies! Spaghetti dinners for everyone!
Oh, wait. Turns out, winning isn't the important thing. What matters is that Mrs. Olinski realizes that these sixth-graders know about something even better than the parts of the human idea. They know about kindness.