Imagine that it’s Saturday morning. You have three times your usual allowance in your pocket, the entirety of New York City at your doorstep, and permission from your parents to go ahead, go out and enjoy, just be back by dinner.
Yeah, that feeling. That’s what this book is about.
There is something about Saturday that is better than any other day of the week. You can sleep in, get some solid hours of fun, and stay up late on a Saturday. Friday would be alright, if the first half weren’t spent in school. And Sunday evenings are just Monday-morning-Eve. Of all the weekend days, Saturday is the only day that is wholly one’s own. Which is why The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright is such a charmer.
The Saturdays is the first of the Melendy family books, about Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver Melendy growing up together in New York City with their widowed father. It wasn’t the first Enright book I read (I went backwards, from Spiderweb for Two), but it’s the only one I own. I loved the idea of a book of Saturdays, the gutsy omission of Sunday through Friday and the cover illustration of the Melendy’s rowboating in Central Park (illustrated by Deborah Chabrian, a talented watercolour artist who obviously had read part of the book, but missed the fact that the boat ride she depicts occurs after Mona cuts off her braids). The cover on this post is not the Deborah Chabrian version. I don’t like it. It is simple, but provides no food for the imagination. How can you be hooked by a cover like that?
The basic premise is one that I, a kid growing up in a city, thought was genius. One rainy Saturday, Randy comes up with a brain-wave: why not pool their allowances and have each person go out and splurge on “their” Saturday? They can keep their activity a secret from the others, if that’s what they want to do. Obtaining permission from their father is “but the work of a moment” (to steal from Edward Eager), and the adventures begin. Enright makes every chapter deeply satisfying and a story in itself. I don’t want to spoil it too much – learning each Saturday adventure as it pops up is part of the fun of the book – so I’ll just say that even simple activities are made more interesting by Enright’s ability to draw readers into the details of life in the 40s (?) and the people living in that time. I desperately wanted such Saturdays! But my parents’ attitude was, “If you want to buy something or go somewhere, just tell me what it is and I’ll give you some money.” In other words, any purchase or activity would have to be vetted, which is really not the point. The Melendys, lucky kids, are both independently spirited and parented.
A note about the illustrations: Enright draws them herself, at the rate of about one per chapter. They are simple line drawings with not much in the way of depth or shading, and the kids’ faces are awfully cookie-cutter. But it is nice to see what Enright thought her characters looked like, and the little details like Rush’s cap and long socks, and Mona’s saddle shoes.
Reading Ages: 9-13. When I read Spiderweb For Two for the first time, I thought it was a bit long, dense and boring. But The Saturdays and the other Melendy books are quicker and shorter.
Favourite Saturday: Oliver’s Saturday.
Rating: A. An extremely satisfying read.