Sunday, November 12, 2017

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E. L. Konigsburg)

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
E. L. Konigsburg
Atheneum Books
Fiction, CH General Fiction/Mystery
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: When young Claudia Kincaid grew tired of being taken for granted by her family, she resolved to run away - but not alone, and not just to anywhere. She's too good a planner for that. Of her brothers, she selected Jamie, who is as good with money as she is poor with it, and as adventurous as she is cautious, as her companion. For her destination, she chose the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; not for her the dirt and grit of the outdoors or the streets. She even mailed a letter to her parents telling them not to worry, that she and James would be back soon - when Claudia would be appreciated. But once the excitement wears off, running away turns out to be less exciting than she'd thought... until she sees Angel, a marble statue that may be an undiscovered work by the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo. Though the truth has baffled the public and the experts, Claudia is determined to solve the mystery herself.

REVIEW: Konigsburg's award-winning classic reveals a love of both museums and childhood, with a smattering of secrets and growing up on the side. The idea of running away to live in a museum is sure to spark young imaginations, and the characters are authentically children, not just crouching grown-ups as some writers present, if children inhabiting a now-lost world where two unaccompanied kids raise few eyebrows (and security cameras aren't yet a thing.) The plot is a bit thin and shaky, though; it takes some time before they even "meet" Angel, and most of the book before they encounter the titular former owner of the statue, the eccentric Mrs. Frankweiler - who, in an odd literary conceit, is dictating the story as a letter to her lawyer Saxonburg. The meeting itself sometimes feels like an author explaining the tale to the characters for some reason, not necessarily a natural encounter. The story isn't so much about Claudia running away as Claudia looking for something, not quite knowing what it is, and being unable to go home until she finds it. Jamie's along for the ride, though he makes a fun and valuable companion; both kids pull their weight on this adventure, and both do a little bit of growing up, if Claudia does the bulk of it. It lost a half-point for some of the wandering, and an ending that felt off for reasons I can't quite identify, but had something to do with the tonal shift once the kids left the museum, a shift that had barely started before the book ended rather abruptly. Still, it remains a readable classic, especially for younger audiences, and Konigsburg crafts very distinct characters readers will probably love.

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