“I prefer not to.” Or, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

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I didn’t read this book when I was a teenager. In fact, I was already married when this book was published. But, and I’m aware this makes me a bad Y.A. fan, I didn’t even know that E.L. Konigsburg was still writing until I saw this book in a thrift store. The back sounded intriguing, and it was only fifty cents. So it was pretty obvious that I had to buy it.

And I’m so glad I did!

Margaret Rose Kane is twelve years old and she’s an only child. She’s used to the adults in her family (her parents, and her Great-Uncles Alex and Morris) including her in all their adult things. So it surprises her when that summer her parents are off to Peru and aren’t taking her along, AND the Uncles don’t agree to keep her for the summer. Instead Margaret is shipped of to Camp Talequa for the summer.

Margaret does not take well to camp. She doesn’t enjoy the activities, refusing to participate with a even-keeled “I prefer not to,” whenever another activity is started. The counselor, camp director, and camp nurse decide she is either depressed or incorrigible. Her bunkmates, most of whom have known each other for years, decide Margaret is the girl they will all pick on.

Uncle Alex comes to the rescue, taking Margaret to his and Morris’ home on Schuyler Place in the downtown area of Epiphany for the remainder of the summer. Alex and Morris are older Hungarian brothers who have lived on Schuyler Place nearly all their adult lives. When they moved in, neighbors were close. But there was a flight to the suburbs and Alex and Morris were left to deal with petty criminals. Now? Downtown Epiphany is having an urban renewal and the downtown area is quickly gentrifying. The neighbors on either side are law offices.

For the past forty plus years, Alex and Morris have slowly been working on a towering art project in their backyard. There are three towers which rise above the second story of the house and are painted in interesting colors. Inside the towers are criss-crossing wires with beads, broken porcelain, and broken glass hanging from them. The tops of the towers have non-working clock faces. The towers are Margaret’s favorite place to be on Schuyler Place.

A few days in to her stay at the Uncles’ house, she discovers that the city has decided that the towers must come down. They’ve been declared hazardous and not “historically appropriate” for the downtown restoration project. The Uncles had spent the last year fighting the city, but the decision was final.

Margaret decides that she needs to stop it. She gathers people she knows, including the people who used to live in the houses next door, the camp director’s son, and a surprising agreement from her former bunkmates and she sets out to save the towers.

*SPOILER ALERT* She does. The towers are considered outsider art, and they’re moved from the Uncles’ house on Schuyler Place to another spot in town, and another whole neighborhood develops around the towers.

  • This is an absolutely terrific book. Snark-free zone today!
  • There are seventeen books listed in the front by E.L. Konigsburg. Seventeen! How did I not know about any of them other than Jennifer, Hecate and Basil Frankenweiler?
  • But…the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I liked that that towers were saved, but there was this whole epilogue thing that seemed tacked on and extraneous. I didn’t really need to know where Margaret’s bunk mates ended up fifteen years later.  And Margaret’s parents’ divorce? Eh.  They weren’t even in the book, why should the readers care about it?
  • I’m sure this story was inspired by Watts Towers. I’m far from an art expert, but I think those towers are gorgeous.
  • Oh my god. Urban renewal and gentrification. I have SO MANY FEELINGS on the subject. I’d go into it, but it’d turn into a freaking thesis. But, I’m glad there was a book on the subject, because people (in the U.S. anyway) don’t think enough about where/how we live and whether there are negative externalities to changing the scope of a neighborhood. I’ll just shut up now.

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in E.L. Konigsburg. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “I prefer not to.” Or, The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

  1. Akilah says:

    So Margaret is a teenaged Bartleby, the Scrivener? I might have to check this one out.

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