Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L'Engle

One of my favorite questions to ask when trying to get to know someone is, "What were your favorite childhood books?" A misty look comes over the person's face, and they usually sigh a bit. They reach back into memory, and it's as if they are getting reacquainted with their younger self. Every reader has a few special books that stood out. Sometimes it is because you read the book at a particularly meaningful moment in your life, but more often than not, I think it's because there is something special about the book itself. Something at the heart of the book--a belief, a way of looking at the world--that fit perfectly with your own heart when you read it. And there are some books that have this effect more often than others. These are the books that come up again and again when I ask the "favorite childhood books" question; books like The Giver, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is one of these books, but somehow, I completely missed it! I never read the "Time Quartet" as a kid, and I don't know how that happened, because they are exactly the kind of books I was drawn to. I have just finished reading A Wrinkle in Time (the first in the series) in a 48-hour spree. Actually, I think time may have "wrinkled" while I read it, the hours passing like minutes. I can't decide if I'm bummed to have missed out on it as a kid or glad to have been able to experience it for the first time as an adult. At any rate, it has plenty to offer to any age.

The book is extraordinary. It has all the elements of a classic fantasy--a misunderstood protagonist, dark forces at work in the world (or in this case, universe). It also has elements of science fiction that push the boundaries of our beliefs about time, space, matter, reality and the mind. It is deeply philosophical and spiritual, but there are also moments when it has the simple and homey tone of a fairy tale or bedtime story. So, it has something for pretty much everyone.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry. At the beginning of the book, she feels like a complete misfit. The daughter of two genius-scientists, Meg is smart--perhaps too smart. She can't seem to play by the rules at school (memorizing facts, reciting the answers deemed correct by the teacher). She can't think "inside the box," and is forever doing things "wrong," being scolded by her teachers and then lashing out in frustration and landing herself in the principal's office. It certainly doesn't help that Meg's father disappeared mysteriously four years prior and everyone in town has come to the conclusion that he ran out on their family. Meg is sure her father didn't abandon them and she longs for the day that he will return.

Meg's only comfort is her family--especially her mother, who understands that Meg just needs to learn things in her own way, and her little brother Charles Wallace, who loves Meg unshakably and who, like her, is also misunderstood by the narrow-minded world.

As in any good fantasy/sci-fi story, strange events begin to occur. Meg and Charles Wallace (along with their new friend Calvin) meet the highly unusual Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, and learn that their father's only hope of escaping a sinister force that holds him captive ("IT") is for them to go on a wild and mind-boggling rescue mission through time and space.

This book stretched my mind around the concept of time travel in ways I never thought possible. And I loved watching Meg, so self-doubting and sullen at the beginning of the book, transform into a bold heroine by the story's end. She is flawed, like we all are, but it is through embracing her flaws and refusing to see her differentness as a weakness that Meg rises up as a leader. As complex as this story seems at times, it is really a story about the beauty of a complicated, diverse world and of love's ability to overcome all other forces.

A Wrinkle in Time is a thrill at any age. Next time it comes up in a conversation about someone's list of most-special-childhood-books, you'll find me sighing and misty-eyed right along with them.

Release date: 1962

Things to think about as you read A Wrinkle in Time:
-Internal and external conflict
-Character development

You might also like...
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (see Ms. Wrenn's review)
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

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