Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: Altogether, One at a Time by E.L. Konigsburg (1971)

Altogether, One at a Time, a slim book containing four short stories, was originally published in 1971. Each story tells of a particular incident that changes the life of the main character in a profound way.

In "Inviting Jason," the main character's mother forces him to invite a kid he hates to his birthday party. "The Night of the Leonids" is about a boy and his grandmother whose opportunity to see a star formation that only occurs every thirty-three and a third years is thwarted by cloudy weather. "Camp Fat" is the story of a girl who goes to camp to lose weight and encounters a mysterious counselor who comes to her bedside each night with encouragement and advice. In "Momma at the Pearly Gates," a young girl relates the story of how her mother overcame racism in her public elementary school.

Though each story is thematically different, they do share some stylistic similarities. Each story begins in the midst of the action, with not much build-up, and no wasted words. I felt like I got to know the characters instantly, which really paid off when each story reached its pivotal moment. I was also really impressed at the subtle differences between the four main characters' voices. Some authors' characters all sound the same, but these truly sounded like four different people, with four distinct personalities.  

Short stories are not very popular among children, but the "Camp Fat" story, especially, has a creepiness to it that will be appealing to Goosebumps fans, and kids who like scary stuff. I actually think any of the stories with the possible exception of the last one, still felt fairly contemporary and could still appeal to a contemporary audience. I also think this book would have come in really handy when I was taking creative writing classes. These are very well-written short stories, and when I do start writing again, I might revisit this book for a refresher.

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