Laurinda’s Rating 5/5
The 1963 Newbery Medal Winner, A Wrinkle in Time, is by far my favorite Newbery Medal winner. I loved this book as a kid and it’s as least as good as an adult. I want to grab the rest of the books in the series and devour them instead of moving on to the next Newbery winner. L’Engle deftly blends action, growing-up, and a fight against evil into a touching narrative.
Meg Murry comes from an extraordinary family, but feels like the odd one out both at home and at school. Her close bond with Charles Wallace, her special younger brother, ameliorates some of the hurt from the scorn heaped on the Murry family because of Mr. Murry’s disappearance. One stormy night, Mrs. Whatsit blows into the Murry family kitchen; although no one thinks much of it at the time, her visit sets of a challenging battle. Along with Calvin, a schoolmate, Meg and Charles are transported off Earth to aid in the battle against the Shadow. Escorted by the eccentric Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Why (really transdimensional beings), the children take a “wrinkle in time” to Camezotz, a dark planet encompassed by the Shadow. All inhabitants of the planet are perfectly synchronized and controlled. The Central Controller/IT brings Charles Wallace under its control, but Meg escapes with her father and Calvin. Meg returns for Charles Wallace, discovering that love is the only thing that can defeat evil. Everyone makes it back to Earth, and the book closes with a sweet family reunion.
Part of what makes this story entertaining and meaningful for adults is its multiple layers of meaning. It can be read as a Christian allegory, certainly not much of a stretch considering blatant reference to God as the opposition to the Shadow and Jesus as one of the warriors for the Light. Despite her immense fear, Meg returns to free her brother, struggling with negative emotions until she realizes that love is the only means to freedom. This mirrored Jesus’s struggle in Gethsemane, as well as his choice to die for love of humanity. However, L’Engle also names numerous other scientific and artistic luminaries as propagators of the Light, so the Christianity theme doesn’t come across as heavy-handed. Considering the Cold War milieu in which L’Engle wrote this novel, the story also contains more than a tinge of the U.S./U.S.S.R struggle. Camezotz, with its standardized people, stands in for the U.S.S.R., which also prized standardization and very defined roles for everyone in its population. The Black Thing continually struggles to overtake new worlds, much as the U.S.S.R. (and, to be fair, the U.S.) did during the 1960’s. Again, L’Engle handles these themes delicately, allowing the surface story-line to retain its primacy.
L’Engle’s strong character building is key to the book’s success, however. Meg is a very relatable heroine. She gets mad at people with great frequency, struggles with feeling inferior to her brilliant parents, and believes everyone is judging her; however, she also loves deeply and carries more strengths than she knows. Meg’s journey of self-discovery, facilitated greatly by her fight against evil, is touching because circumstances demonstrate the positive uses of her “negative” qualities. Stubbornness and anger help keep her free of IT’s mind control, though love tops all. So frequently, I gag at saccharine narratives of characters “growing-up”, but L’Engle manages Meg’s beautifully.
I unreservedly recommend this book. It is an excellent, quick read. Even though I had read it before, I still came away with something new to think about. I’m quite tempted to turn around and read it again right away, or at least pick up the next book in the series. Late elementary school and later would probably enjoy this the most, though I can see it being a great read-aloud for younger children.