A brilliant read, Frankweiler
satirically deconstructs notions of rebellion and childhood independence, all the while poking fun at the self-important indulgences so commonly found in YA fantasy and mystery. Granted, Frankweiler
requires its own measure of suspension of disbelief. (Two middle-school-aged kids living in the MMoA, avoiding detection while solving a previously-uncrackable architecture mystery? Precious, right?) But Konigsburg's framing of the story not only plays off its ridiculous premise; it outright runs with it. And boy, is it ever fun. We see Jamie, the male lead, cheating at cards long enough to amass a small fortune in quarters. Now this is hilarious: while Jamie is smart enough to cheat his friends out of serious amounts of milk money, he's also stupid enough to run away from home and live in an art museum merely because his sister asks him to. If that's not commentary on the nature of childhood, I'll eat my hat. And yet Konigsburg also pokes fun at the adult reader here too—any 'grown-up' (read: one who has replaced their childhood ignorance with maturity) would certainly never act like the kids do here, which would result in the loss of the story's First Mover. Thus Frankweiler
's lessons are entirely reliant upon the existence of the Child. This might sound like Le petit prince
territory, but it's really not—Konigsburg is subtler and (dare I say?) more readable.
Or how about Claudia? She sensibly decides to bathe in the fountain pool, which serves the double purpose of cleanliness and loose change scavenging. One might argue that this is more rational behaviour than would be exhibited by the average Wall Street banker (and certainly more rational than most of the adults in the book). And yet this is the same Claudia who decided to run away from home with her clothing stuffed in a violin case.
There's a bit of mystery to the story, and this is where I think Frankweiler
falters. I don't remember how the kids solve the mystery, which is likely a testament to its irrelevance. The other issue is that of Basil E. Frankweiler's character. After all of Konigsburg's subtle jabs at the Adult, do we really need this wise mother figure putting the kids back in their place? It's worth noting that even given their relative success at independent life in the Big City, Frankweiler's presence reminds the reader that the kids are still children. It's not a bad way to frame the main characters' evolution (or, perhaps more accurately, lack thereof), although I can't help but think that the end would have been more bitingly satirical had Claudia and Jamie lived in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the rest of their lives. I can see them finishing grade school, graduating from college, working their way up the social ladder, becoming CEOs (and as a side effect, losing their childlikeness). A pipe dream for sure, but a frighteningly real one.