When I saw Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time on the list of most commonly banned books, I was pretty confused. I was even more confused when I noticed the ALA had rated it the 22nd most banned book from 1990-2000 in their list of the 100. As far as I’m concerned, these books are pretty wholesome. No sex. No drugs. No violence. No overtly or anti-religious overtones that I ever noticed as a kid. So I did what anyone who wants a question answered does: I wikied it. According to Wikipedia, it features witches and crystal balls and lists the name of Jesus among the great artists, philosophers, and scientists.
Internet, I goggle.
I first read A Wrinkle in Time what not feels like a million years ago. My mom bought it for me way back in third grade, and I now count it among my favorite books of all time. This book and it’s author are a big part of the reason why I grew up to be who I am today. The day the world lost Madeleine L’Engle, I cried. The idea that some kids and teens would be disallowed from reading her books is both depressing and infuriating.
Trying to give a plot description of this book is nearly impossible without spoiling it. I figure this is one of the most read YA books ever, but, just in case it isn’t, I’m going to keep things simple. Meg Murry feels like a normal girl. She’s good at math. She has a younger brother named Charles Wallace of whom she is very protective. Her parents are scientists. And her father has just disappeared while working on the tesseract problem for the government. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe, the coolest guy in school, set out to get through the tesseract – the wrinkle in time – and bring him home.
The plot for this book is complex and well done, but what makes this book one of the most beloved of all time is the characters and the love Madeleine L’Engle had for them and shares with us. Meg, along with Cassandra Mortmain, is one of my top five female leads of all time. She’s also the character I related to the most when I was younger. She was ostracized for being a little nerdy and a little bit smart and maybe pretty awkward and shy. She couldn’t see any of the good in herself, especially when she looked at her gorgeous mother. On the one hand she struggled with the fact that her twin brothers were so normal – what she wanted to be. But then Charles Wallace, who is so clearly special (if seeming a little strange) that Meg can’t help but be a little jealous of him too. But she is still courageous and loyal and loving and crazy smart.
Re-reading this book as an “adult,” you can’t help but want to shake Meg and let her understand how amazing she is. Re-reading this book as a young adult though, you want to invite her over for bad movies and ice cream so you can commiserate about how lame you both are.
I knew I’d love Calvin the moment he appeared. On the surface, he has everything. He’s cute and smart and an athlete and everyone loves him. But that’s just what other people see. Underneath all of that, he struggles. He has problems at home and he feels the same sense of insignificance that plagues Meg.
Most of all, I loved the way Calvin and Meg learned these lessons together, as a team. It’s always easy to imagine that the grass is greener on the other side until you can see it. This book isn’t about changing yourself or trying to be better or fit in: it’s about learning to appreciate what you already have. Calvin helps Meg see how wonderful her family is and how strong she is – that maybe she isn’t the “monster” she imagines herself as. Meg helps Calvin find out that he’s special for more than just what everyone else sees, and she helps him realize that even if his family are a bunch of jerks he isn’t alone.
I once read a review of this book that said there’s a little bit of Meg in all of us, and I can’t think of a better way to think about Meg (or any of the characters). No matter how successful or happy someone appears, there’s almost always a little piece of them inside that questions whether they really matter in the grand scheme of things – if they’re all that important to the universe. Madeleine L’Engle says yes. Because Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace show all of us that no matter how small or insignificant we may feel, there’s more to us than meets the eye – that we’re special and important in our own individual ways.
Don’t listen to the social critics. A Wrinkle in Time isn’t about undermining religion. It’s not a book about witchcraft or the occult. It’s a book about three kids going on an adventure to find themselves. And somehow, they’ll help you find yourself too.
A Wrinkle in Time is followed by A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. You can read more about the wonderful Medeleine L’Engle here.
As a reminder, we’re hosting two giveaways for Banned Books Week. Commenting on this entry earns you an entry to win one of two book combos. The first back includes Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer and the second will include A Wrinkle in Time and three other books to be reviewed this week. For more details, see yesterday’s entry!