I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.
My copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – a paperback with yellowing pages and a 25 cent garage sale sticker on the front cover – sat unopened on my bookshelf for years. Although I was generally aware of it being considered a Classic and an important part of many people’s childhoods, I just never bothered to read it until this week, spurred on after watching a trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation. I thought it was going to be a light adventure story with some fantastic elements. Turns out it’s a beginning exploration into the nature of free will, evil, knowledge of the divine, and…general relativity. It’s a peculiar little book!
The book is original. The settings and descriptions are beautiful and clear. It unironically opens on a dark and stormy night, and any book that has the courage to lean-in to that cliche and pull it off gets my approval. The language is easy to read with even abstract concepts and advanced physics breezily explained.
This novel is not perfect, however. The plot is simplistic. Most of the characters only behave sort of like humans some of the time. The dialogue does not feel natural, with everyone speaking in a kind of Transatlantic accent. The method of expression of Christian values (and the amount of it) in this book makes The Chronicles of Narnia look subtle in comparison.
But all of that is really beside the point. The (one) relatable character, Meg, is a just-barely-teenage girl who is self-conscious about her looks (she wears glasses and has braces) and good at math. She doesn’t have any super powers. She gets angry and irritable and confused, but at heart, she’s a good person. I think the reason that so many people love this book so much is because they could relate to Meg when they were young and felt like awkward outcasts surrounded by people that didn’t seem to have any problems fitting in. Meg lets them know that it’s ok to be a bit different.
In addition to saying it’s ok to let your freak flag fly, the book also explores the feelings that come with the discovery that your parents are flawed and not omnipotent, something that kids around that age are just starting to figure out. In addition to these sympathetic portrayals of common trials and tribulations of young adulthood, the book also explores more spiritual concepts. It makes uncomfortable and thought-provoking observations on the role of free will and its application to the concepts of good and evil. It provides interesting insights about a form that evil can take. As I said above, the book is explicitly Christian, but there isn’t anything in it that should be super-offensive to non-Christians. Its moral lessons are generally applicable to most belief systems.
This is the first book of a series, but it is not necessary to read the rest of the series if you don’t want to. This book is self-contained.
I would recommend this book to anyone, and it is appropriate for middle-grade and up children if you are thinking of a gift. It might be a little scary or too abstract for kids much younger than fourth grade or so.
Rating: 4 stars