Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The allure of discovery

Amedeo Kaplan is the new kid in town. The only problem is that, in his new town of St. Malo, Florida, people move in and out so often that he's just one face among many, anonymous and alone. And there is more to him (as with everyone) than meets the eye. Amedeo has a dream to discover something - not necessarily anything of immense importance, maybe just a fossil or a forgotten remnant of another time. He is inspired by stories about people who inadvertently made discoveries, like the French boys who stumbled across the cave of Lascaux with its amazing prehistoric artwork hidden inside.

He gets a glimpse of a place worth exploring when he first goes next door to make a phone call at his new next-door neighbor's house. Mrs. Zender is an eccentric woman, a retired opera singer, and she is one of my favorite characters in the book. She drinks champagne all day long, is a drama queen extraordinaire, self-centered yet kind and perceptive - and also a bit of a bully.

One afternoon Amedeo sees William Wilcox get off the bus at his bus stop. Amedeo knows who William Wilcox is because William has a Story. Not just any story, but a story of discovery. His mother coordinates estate sales for people, and he'd helped her with a Chinese screen not a single antiques dealer had been interested in, finally selling it for a huge sum to the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC. William and his mother are clearing out Mrs. Zender's marvellous, if run-down, old house. Amedeo invites himself in and offers to help - for a variety of reasons not even he seems to fully understand.

Amedeo's story is intertwined with the story of his art collector godfather, Peter Vanderwaal, whose father recently died. Peter is putting together an art exhibit on works that were forbidden during Hitler's regime, and the discovery Amedeo makes from among Mrs. Zender's things sparks a scavenger hunt into the past that brings to light some dark and disturbing secrets.

Konigsburg never disappoints, and this book is no exception. The power of art is a recurring theme in her work, and it is a particularly resonant one in this book, mixed as it is with the history of the Holocaust. The novel certainly explores some difficult terrain, but the characters and their relationships leave the reader feeling inspired and empowered. E.L. Konigsburg is an author whose books I reread regularly, and I gain a new insight every time I revisit them. I hope she will be writing for many years to come.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007)

Other blog reviews:
Destined to Become a Classic
Ms Yingling Reads

Other B&OT Konigsburg Review:
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler


  1. Ack! I have never heard of this author!! Is that bad? The book sounds fantastic. I love coming over here, but man you are racking up some serious numbers on my TBR!

  2. Lol Stephanie - I feel the same way every time I come to your blog! It is not bad that you've never heard of her - it gives you the enviable opportunity to read a whole bunch of wonderful books for the first time. And that's always fun. :-)

  3. "the characters and their relationships leave the reader feeling inspired and empowered"

    I like the sound of this!

  4. I think you'd enjoy it, Nymeth!


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