Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Genre: YA, science fiction
Source: Own copy
Lauren: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Seriously?! That’s the first line? A snippet from an older first line now considered so cliche there’s an awardnamed after the man who originally wrote it, and it’s given to the people who can think up the most dreadful first lines. It’s a wonderfully amusing competition in crap writing, but sadly this YA novel is quite unintentionally and unamusingly crap. Of course, it was written 50 years ago and I’m guessing (hoping) that the ‘dark and stormy night’ thing is some kind of joke or parody, but I don’t know what it is, so my very first impression was a bad one and nothing in the novel managed to change my mind. The characters are flat, silly or extremely annoying. The plot felt rushed, childish, and was generally boring. I can understand why it’s considered a YA classic, as it has many wonderful themes/messages for tweens and teens, but for me it failed in pretty much every other way. When I read this for my bookclub’s group read I realised I’d already read it as a child, but all I remembered was the description of the character Calvin O’Keefe and that it was about a weird journey. Nothing else was even remotely familiar, and now I’m not surprised that I found it so utterly forgettable.
Lu: What was going on? Is it just me or was it very confusing? Jumping from one thing to another? I guess it’s supposed to be like that. That the author was trying something new or trying to be different. But it didn’t work for me.
Meg was annoying and bratty, although that was understandable since she had to rescue her father while traveling with her little brother who, in my opinion, is a 40-year old. And with Calvin the heartthrob… shoot me now.
Ah yes, then the three witches. Can I call them witches? Who knows – I lost interest in them the moment they arrived. What was wrong with this book? It’s supposed to be a children’s book? Is this a joke? Did I miss it?
I felt the author was forcing details and events into places where they shouldn’t be. I honestly can’t name one thing I liked about this novel. It is easily the most overrated book I have ever read. I wanted to gouge my eyes out by the end.
Oh, where to begin? How about listing the things we didn’t like and go from there?
Lauren: Charles Wallace, implausible character behaviour, aliens who speak English, the religious message, the super-cheesy ending where Meg saves Charles Wallace with love.
Lu: Very confusing and jumbled up – things just happen randomly. Meg irritating, Charles acting like a 40-year-old. How can this be a children’s book? Author forcing details and events. Contrived escapes and solutions every time.
Lu: What did you think of the plot? I thought the author was trying to be smart and pushed theories and scenes down your throat just so she could get to the end result.
Lauren: I liked the theories about time, but I felt that the plot as a whole was random, rushed and full of implausibilities. I think children tend to be more tolerant of flaws like that or just don’t notice them when they’re reading, but as an adult it annoys me. Why was Mr Murry sent on that mission when the first guy disappeared? Why isn’t Mrs. Murry helping to search for him, when she’s also a physicist and was working on the same research? Why is Calvin so comfortable around a family he met a few hours ago under rather strange circumstances? What prompts him to be so overprotective of Meg? What’s the deal with Charles Wallace?
Lu: You ask all the same questions I want to know! There is a sequel right? Maybe that answers some of it, although I highly doubt it.
Lauren: I’m told you learn more about Charles Wallace and Calvin in later books (there are plenty). Not that I’m going to read anymore.
Lu: Yea I think this was the first and last one for me thanks.
Lauren: One of the most annoying characters I’ve come across in a while. A 5-year old who is ‘gifted’ with the ability to act just like a pretentious old git.
Lu: I know! The author attempts to mask the fact that he is rude and obnoxious by saying he is “gifted”. A few things these children said to their mother and the witches would be a slap-able offence if they were real!
Lauren: I don’t think I was really that bothered by him being rude, per se, but rather that he’s such an implausible character. Ok fine, he’s gifted, but how is it that he doesn’t really have any of the personality traits of a 5-year-old? I felt that L’Engle should have combined his intelligence and prescience with child-like traits.
Lu: I agree that would have made him more plausible!
Lu: Meg was the most annoying character for me. She just complained from start to finish! She came across bratty and was met with from groans from my side.
Lauren: I didn’t like her much either, but I have to give the author some credit for writing a character like Meg. She’s described as unattractive and temperamental, prone to getting into fights. She’s very smart, but thanks to the way her father has taught her, her methods are unorthodox and she gets in trouble for not doing things the way her teachers tell her to. All this serves to make her feel like an outsider. What I like about this is that it’s unusual to see this many unfavourable traits in a YA character (at least from what I’ve read) and yet there must be plenty of kids out there who are similar to Meg and feel as much of an outsider as she does. So kudos to L’Engle for writing an unlikeable girl as the protagonist.
Lu: I see what you are saying – she is definitely a fresh YA character for me. But I still couldn’t’ like her.
A Wrinkle in Time as YA
Lauren: So you don’t think this make a good or appropriate book for children? Why not?
Lu: Hell no! For one the children in this book are anything but exemplary. Also the books makes no sense. There are no lessons, unless you count the ‘love conquerors all’ bit, which is unrealistic.
Lauren: Hehe, I can’t believe I’m the one who is going to defend a YA novel against your criticism but… I felt that the novel’s only redeeming factor was that it had some great messages/themes for children. Firstly, there’s Meg. As I mentioned she’s unlikeable and feels like an outsider, but her parents and the Mrs W’s encourage her to accept the fact that she’s different and play to her strengths instead of just assimilating, as most children would probably be pressurised to do.
Lu: You say this, but would children understand? You would have to explain the deeper themes to children as you read the book to them.
Lauren: Well this is YA rather than children’s fiction, so kids would be reading it on their own and are old enough to get it. Also, I don’t think the themes necessarily have to be explained. For example, kids would just see this character who they’re told is very different from others and seen as unattractive, and yet she’s the heroine of the story and no one’s trying to make her prettier or more obedient. The message is in the example.
You said that none of the children are exemplary, but even though I found Meg and Charles Wallace irritating, while Calvin is kind of weird, it’s good that they’re flawed and get whiny and scared, as real children (and adults) do.
Lu: Children act and do things from example, and I don’t think these children’s actions and words should be read by other children. As prim and proper as that may sound.
Lauren: Hahaha, you make it sound as if they’re shooting heroin! What’s so bad about the way they act, other than being whiny?
I don’t think any child could really imitate Charles Wallace, and 5-year-olds aren’t going to be reading this anyway. Ok, so Meg is whiny, but she does what she has to.
Calvin’s actually a little creepy sometimes – he makes comments that seem inappropriate when he’s only known the Murry kids for a few hours, and he’s strangely overprotective of Meg. But at least he’s caring and willing to go on this journey to help save Mr Murry. It seems implausible, but Calvin himself is a good kid. He’s popular, but not full of himself.
Lu: I just can’t help it. This book just rubbed me the wrong way. I cringed at almost every word. But maybe listening to the audio book in the author’s own voice made it worse, because she knows how she wanted things said and said them in certain tones etc. Mrs Which’s disembodied voice nearly had me drive off the road in frustration!
Lauren: Although I was really, really annoyed that the plot features aliens who speak English, its portrayal of alien lifeforms – particularly Aunt Beast – is all about seeing the world from different perspectives, especially when it comes to those who are very different from you. A great example in the book is when the characters try to explain ‘sight’ to Aunt Beast, an alien who does not have or need this form of perception.
Lu: Here I agree with you. A nice lesson can be taught about blind/deaf etc. kids and how you should be tolerant and understand what they are going through.
Lauren: One of the best YA themes came up when Meg finally finds her father. She’s rather disillusioned – he’s not the perfect man she always imagined him to be. He’s just a regular, flawed human being. Meg was convinced he would know exactly what to do and would take the reins as soon as he’d been freed, but instead he’s almost clueless. Meg, like every child, has to come to terms with the fact that her parent is not perfect and can’t do everything for her. Instead, she has to be the one who acts and saves Charles Wallace.
Lu: True Meg learns something here, but regardless of the ‘lesson’, she had to fight “IT” with love. Really? Kill. me. now
Lauren: Bleh, yeah, I hate how cheesy that is. Although I’d say it’s a lesson in itself. Part of the Christian message?
In addition to this, it’s also a book where children have to save the day. The Mrs W’s guide them, but ultimately the children have to act. The adults tend to be absent, incompetent, or even evil. When I was a kid I loved books like the Famous Five or Secret Seven series where the children were the heroes, where they were brave and smart enough to act on their own initiative.
Lu: I still see this book as having a forced ending. No matter what, love would have saved the day. Whether it was the children, Meg’s father or the W’s it would have ended the same way. So personally I didn’t feel like it was the children, they were just the means to an end for an author who was pushing a point.
Lauren: I see your point, and I agree that it’s a forced ending. However, I’d still say that the book as a whole is about kids who have to act on their own, without relying on adults, even if it’s badly done.
Christian parents might also appreciate the novel’s religious message. I don’t know how parents of other faiths would feel about it and if I had kids I’d be a bit iffy about any religious message, but at least it’s a very liberal Christianity that embraces a things like time travel and intelligent alien life. Oddly enough, according to the Wikipedia article on L’Engle, she gets criticised by religious groups for being too liberal, while some secular critics complain that she’s too religious.
Lu: Wow that’s interesting! Yeah I would be interested to hear what parents of different religions/faiths would think of this.
Lauren: Anyway, on the whole, I think that in terms of themes, this is a great book for children. The downside is that I still found it kind of random and boring, and yeah, that ‘love conquers all’ crap is really lame.
Lu: I don’t think every child would understand this book; hell I don’t understand it. I think it was just a way to push a point and try and be clever and confusing on the way there.
Lauren: I’m no judge of what kids are capable of understanding, but I think the fact that this is a beloved childhood classic speaks for itself – obviously lots of kids both understood and enjoyed it.
Lu: Well I’m just happy it’s over to be honest. Never again.
Buy a copy of A Wrinkle in Time at The Book Depository
Lauren and Lu’s Reviews
Lu (from A Muggle’s Magical Book Blog) and I are very different readers. She’s easygoing, I’m demanding. She loves YA and paranormal romance, I don’t. I love sci fi and dark fantasy, she just dabbles. I want good writing and interesting ideas, while Lu is happy with a great story, interesting characters and a few twists. Together we’ll argue our conflicting points of view in joint reviews and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one.