108. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg
Publication: Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition (September 25, 2007) / ISBN 0743569083
Genre: Fiction, MG
Read: April 21-27, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
Amedeo Kaplan seems just like any other new kid who has moved into the town of St. Malo, Florida, a navy town where new faces are the norm. But Amedeo has a secret, a dream: More than anything in the world, he wants to discover something — a place, a process, even a fossil — some treasure that no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would also like to discover a true friend to share these things with.
William Wilcox seems like an unlikely candidate for friendship: an aloof boy who is all edges and who owns silence the way other people own words. When Amedeo and William find themselves working together on a house sale for Amedeo’s eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Zender, Amedeo has an inkling that both his wishes may come true. For Mrs. Zender’s mansion is crammed with memorabilia of her long life, and there is a story to go with every piece. Soon the boys find themselves caught up in one particular story — a story that links a sketch, a young boy’s life, an old man’s reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. It’s a story that will take them to the edge of what they know about heroism and the mystery of the human heart.
I love E.L. Konigsburg’s books– From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View From Saturday are on my Best Books of All Time list for good reason– but The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World is definitely not on that list. It’s simultaneously the most boring ELK book I’ve ever and, surprisingly, the most heartbreaking, and I’m not sure what went wrong.
I’ve read slightly boring ELK books before (hi, Silent to the Bone), and probably some people think ALL her books are boring because they’re more quietly powerful than outrageously in-your-face about stuff. What I like about her books is that her characters are so real, and how she writes about ordinary things that are made extraordinary by virtue of her excellent writing skills. And I especially like how she slips in these little truths about people and the world we live in, like breadcrumbs on a path to better understanding ourselves. It’s good stuff!
Unfortunately, The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World feels…half-done. I don’t think the narrator (I read the audiobook) helped, because he didn’t sound like anyone in the story and he made Mrs Zender sound like a drag queen (which she wasn’t, though I really wanted her to be by the end). He did good accents, but it was a lackluster narration and maybe that tipped the scale more towards “bad” than the book actually deserves. (Or maybe it’s just a bad book and I’m trying to make excuses for it. I don’t know.)
However, I wasn’t enthralled with the characters as much as I was in other ELK books. They were cheeky and intelligent people, but it was sort of like ELK introduced them and then forgot to actually develop anything past those basic introductions. Would I want to be friends with them? No. And that’s really telling, because I’d definitely be friends with the characters in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View From Saturday.
The most interesting and powerful part of the book was the WWII Nazi art theft stuff, which I find both fascinating and horrifying. It makes for a good story, and ELK definitely made some excellent points about morality, and the importance of staying true to yourself, and the whole story with Amadeo’s godfather’s father’s brother during WWII? Made me CRY. That’s powerful stuff, right there, but it just made my disappointment with the rest of the book that more sharp.
So, yeah. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World isn’t my favorite ELK book, not by a long shot, and if I didn’t already like most of her other books I think this one would turn me off her writing. The dialogue was boring, the characters were boring, the story– except for the Nazi art theft plotline– was boring, and overall it was just a waste of time. And that makes me really sad!
Okay, I’m rambling. But basically: if you’ve never read an E.L. Konigsburg book before, don’t start with this one. And if you’ve already read an ELK book before and like it, maybe don’t read this one, either. It’s a dud, I think.
I know you students’ll be Googling for the theme, so here it is: “ninety percent of who you are is invisible.”