YotFC REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet #1)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ASIN: B004OA64H0
Young adult fantasy
April 1, 2010

Book blurb via Goodreads:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

Welcome to my first review for my Year of the Fantasy Classic reading challenge! I feel sooper dorkishly excited that I actually got one read this soon – or one read at all. Seriously, I’m so bad at sticking to reading challenges. But enough of that droll nonsense – on to the review!

I read this when I was a kid. What age, you ask? I dunno. I just know I read it. Well, and that I enjoyed it as only a burgeoning young reader newly burgeoning with book looooove can. I just remember after all these years feeling exceptionally grateful to this book, you know? It gave me lots of those warm fuzzy feelings and I’ve carried them with me since, touting A Wrinkle in Time as one of THE books that catapulted me into the reading stars. But all that bordering-on-purple nostalgia aside, did this book truly stand the test of time for me? The answer is a big, juicy fat YES…and NO.

I’ve been having such an insatiably great first month of reading in 2012. This is new for me, the last few years have been pretty much the opposite. I was delighted at how quickly A Wrinkle in Time drew me in. It was like reading it for the first time again because, while I remembered the basic premise, I didn’t exactly remember how the book began. The language – like poetry. The characters – like development-anticipating pieces of candy, I’m telling you. The mystery of Mrs. Whatsit and the other “ladies”. Oh was I sucked in, thoroughly so. Loved that. Almost nothing gives me more joy these days than a book that does these things at the beginning as opposed to later. After I’ve torn my hair out and wanted to give up waiting for the goods.

You know what else I flat-out LOVE about this book? The parents. They’re not the dead beat, absent, uncaring, neglectful, too-busy-working-to-worry-about-my-kid’s-safety people. In other words, they’re not jerk monkeys. And the book stems from so much love between this family. OK, maybe not so much the oblivious twins, more so Meg and her curious younger brother, Charles Wallace (love his name) and the rest of the family that is deemed the, er, more “talented” of the bunch. Not that the twins aren’t loved, they just, apparently, don’t have the unique traits that brand Meg and Charles Wallace as social outcasts, making the twins more embarrassed over their siblings than anything else. So we can set the twins aside, I suppose, in this volume anyway. But to get back to it, let’s put another point on the board for awesome parents in YA that in no way whatsoever take agency away from the children, who go on to have quite an adventure as well as contribute fantastically to arriving at The End.

The book is pretty fast-paced for all its glorious prose that makes me want to slow down and savor it. And I suppose it has to be, it’s not a long book after all. Still, what it manages to pack in is impressive. That being said, now that I’m an adult reading this again for the first time in who knows how many years, I did find myself asking a lot of questions! So many questions about the “ladies” helping Meg and Charles Wallace, along with Meg’s classmate Calvin (who is also apparently a talented young man in the way most of Meg’s family seems to be), as they rush to save Meg and Charles’s father. So many questions about The Black Thing that they’re fighting. So many questions about the worldbuilding and how exactly tessering “works”. What this book is not good on, it becomes quickly clear, is answers. But the point, perhaps, is not that, but simply to save Meg and Charles Wallace’s father. Still, even at this middle school young adult level, I’d have been interested to see more in terms of the worldbuilding and I’m betting middle school aged kids can handle it.

The other thing that stood out to me is how melodramatic the story is, especially when it comes to how the human characters speak and interact. So much of the dialogue is laced with heated, passionate tones from Meg, Charles Wallace and company. At times it felt a little overdone. At other times it felt way over the top. There’s a part of the book when Charles Wallace is in danger, and (to try to tell it so there’s no spoilers) Meg lashes out over and over about how he’s just been left behind and no one cares and it just goes on and on for several pages, over and over. On one hand, yes, Meg is a child, but even so I think it got severely old with her blaming others for Charles Wallace being in danger and left behind on the planet Camazotz, where a dystopian, totalitarian-esque rule is in place – and what I have my strongest memories of from reading this all as a child. I almost didn’t like her for a little while there.

Soon after they’ve left Charles Wallace behind on Camazotz, though completely unintentionally and due to circumstances beyond their control…

“I’m fine,” she muttered, looking not at Calvin or her father, but at the beasts, for it was to them she turned now for help. It seemed to her that neither her father nor Calvin were properly concerned about Charles Wallace.

After that scene, a few paragraphs after…

“But if you haven’t thought of anything else, it’s the only thing to do! Father, don’t you care about Charles at all!”

There’s a lot of exclamation point passion going on with these characters. Trust me. And THEN Mrs. Whatsit and company arrive once again, and when they ask what they were called for Meg helpfully supplies the reason.

“Father left him!” Meg cried. “He left him on Camazotz!”

Maybe it seems like I’m making a mountain out of a tiny mole hill, but this almost hostile attitude of Meg’s concerning the much-inflated (and untrue) abandonment of Charles Wallace to the clutches of The Black Thing is emphasized to the point of ridiculousness. One thing that is hinted at, although I’m not sure is the case, is this is possibly the effect of The Black Thing on Meg. But like almost everything else in the book, there’s nothing really explained and that’s frustrating at times because of the heavy emphasis placed on Meg’s distress and outbursts accusing folks of not caring, etc.

There’s also an aspect that I suppose just didn’t sink in with me as a child – the religious messages in A Wrinkle in Time. In all honesty, I’m still not sure they make that much of an impression on me except that I noticed them this time. But once again, it kind of falls back on the lack of worldbuilding. This is all a very imaginative setup for sure, but in looking at it all as a whole, it’s barely held together. Maybe things are answered in time throughout the rest of the series, I’m not sure (the more I think about it, the more sure I am that I didn’t read the rest of the series…maybe). But throwing in messages about God towards the end didn’t faze me really, it was just another aspect of the book that was like, OK here I am, make some room, now watcha think about that?I honestly have no idea, new addition with no explanation, what I think.

Maybe I’m missing something here. I haven’t looked up any further thoughts from others on the book yet. On the one hand I enjoyed going back to my childhood with A Wrinkle in Time, remembering parts and pieces that I fell in love with then. On the other hand I’m a little disappointed that it lacks so much for me now. I do think, still, that it’s a wonderful children’s book and if nothing else it would be a treat to read this again with my daughter one day and discuss it all, speculating and interpreting the book from a child’s perspective. And I’ll leave it at that, not going to give it my usual rating since I almost can’t bear to rate a childhood favorite on a low scale. I’m glad I reread it, though, and I’ll always treasure it for what it gave me as a child. Maybe that’s the most important aspect of reading it again in the end.

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  2. Like you, Wrinkle in Time was one of my first (it catapulted me too!) and a definite favorite. Madeleine L’engle is truly an exceptional writer, and I especially loved this particular series. In my preteen years I became a bit of an expert on all things L’engle. From your review, it sounded like you haven’t read or don’t remember reading her other books, so If you haven’t, I highly recommend. My all-time favorite even as an adult is actually not of this series, “A Ring of Endless Light” and is not a fantasy. She basically has 2 families she writes about, one that takes fantastic trips into space and time, and the other that stays firmly rooted in this world. Characters cross between the two families so its fun to read about. Two books stand out to me that you might find more satisfying as a more mature reader: Many Waters (the twins have an adventure!) and An Acceptable Time (Meg’s oldest daughter has an adventure). A Swiftly Tilting Planet was over my head as a kid, but I appreciated its complexity as a young adult reader. Anyway, I am so happy you read this classic again! I have been a fan of your blog for several years now and to learn we both began in the same place just solidifies my fandom. :) Love to you and your family!

    • Yep, I just cannot remember if I ever went on to read other works by her! It’s really annoying lol. And pardon my late reply, I’m really just surfacing today after a nice, long Thanksgiving break. Thank you very much for your recommendations! And thank you so much for your kind comments, it means a lot. :)

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