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Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg

By whatBENwatches | Books | May 20, 2009 |

By whatBENwatches | Books | May 20, 2009 |

Silent to the Bone is E.L. Konigsburg’s follow-up to The View from Saturday. If pressed to choose a favorite book, I would pick The View from Saturday for several reasons. Though it’s a children’s book, I think Konigsburg doesn’t write as if she’s writing for children - there are poignant moments throughout the book that I think would be lost on a younger audience, and at a svelte 160ish pages, the novel packs a lot of story and characterization into a small space. If the Cannonball Read allowed for <200 page books, I’d be all over rereading that and singing its praises in a heartbeat.

Alas, we’re left with Silent to the Bone, which doesn’t reach nearly the same heights as Konigsburg’s previous novel. This is the story of Connor, a 13-year-old who pairs with his older half-sister Margaret to uncover the truth behind Connor’s best friend Branwell’s turning mute after being blamed for an accident that has left Branwell’s baby sister Nikki in a coma.

There’s a lot that Konigsburg does fairly well here, most notably through the use of Connor as first person narrator. She does a nice job exploring the idiosyncrasies of Connor and Branwell’s friendship and the nuances that are involved at that age when you’re friends with the weird kid at school. The family dynamics at play with Connor, his mother, Margaret, and their dad are also handled effectively and with subtlety.

The book’s primary problem is a big one, though: the central mystery and ultimate resolution to Branwell’s slip into being mute is essentially linked to shame that Branwell feels about an incident that Connor uncovers over the course of the book. And I’m sorry, but when your infant sister is in a coma and you’re shouldering the blame and you hold the key to the ultimate truth behind what happened, I take a lot of issue with that silence. On top of that, Konigsburg establishes an effective system that Connor devises to communicate with Branwell, so it’s never quite clear why he can’t spell out what happened (for those who have read the book: no pun intended).

Ultimately, though the central mystery is largely unsatisfying, Konigsburg brings her usual deft hand with characterization and a few poignant moments to the table, and that’s always a pleasure to read. The View from Saturday, though, soars with its narrative while Silent to the Bone ultimately trips over itself.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of whatBENwatches reviews, check out his blog, A Good Talk or Pancakes.

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