Books That Shaped Me: A Wrinkle in Time
Funny thing, it was the Babysitters Club that got me reading A Wrinkle in Time. I was a voracious reader, and when my mom bought a milk crate full of old Babysitters Club books for me at a garage sale, I dove right in. One of the Babysitter Club books featured Claudia Kishi picking out A Wrinkle in Time and she read the first line from Madeleine L’Engle’s book:
It was a dark and stormy night.
I was hooked. I wasn’t even reading the actual novel yet, but still I was interested in this spooky sounding book with weird chapter titles and something that could get even Claudia, who didn’t like to read, interested in what would happen next. I made a beeline for it the next time my elementary class went to the library and was greeted with what was undoubtedly the most gloriously weird book cover I’d ever seen.
Looking back…I don’t remember the specifics of making my way through it for the first time. But I remember vividly feeling exhilarated and a little proud having finished just the book. As if somehow by reading along, I had helped and been just as vital a part of the adventure as Meg or Charles Wallace.
I’d read no shortage of books that featured girls, starting with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little Women, then Matilda, and, of course, the whole cast of the Babysitters Club. But somehow A Wrinkle in Time got its tenterhooks into me in a way that nothing else could.
Meg Murry is so extraordinary and yet so utterly ordinary at the same time. She’s only good at the school subject she likes, math, and feels utterly inept at the rest of it. Her mother is beautiful and kind, all while being a scientist and managing to be a single mom with a grace that Meg feels is utterly out of her reach. As the oldest child, Meg worries over her younger brothers, especially Charles Wallace, who is the target of bullying for being a little strange. Her father is missing, ostensibly off on government scientist work, but what matters is that he’s gone and Meg has to cope with that loss and uncertainty. She’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders and feels powerless to change any of it.
And that was me when I first read A Wrinkle in Time. In so many more ways than I realized at the time. Meg Murry is one of the great protagonists in young adult literature–Madeleine L’Engle perfectly captures that sense of feeling out of place in the world at that age–but her specific circumstances so closely mirrored mine, the older sister in a family with a younger brother and mother going through a vicious divorce. My world had been flipped upside down and so I fled into books to escape my upsetting reality.
A Wrinkle in Time took this wonderfully relatable character and threw her into a strange adventure led by three old ladies who may be angels, or possibly witches, but at least one is DEFINITELY a rainbow centaur with wings in place of arms. But she might also be a star too? That’s the other thing that drew me into A Wrinkle in Time, the way the whole book is infused with a sense of wonder and weird lingering just out of sight of our everyday life. The universe Madeleine L’Engle creates is beautiful and bizarre, divine and scientific, spiritual in a way that still articulates what feels true in my heart better than any religious books I’ve read. When I read Harry Potter I dreamed about what it would be like to go to Hogwarts myself. With L’Engle’s work, I don’t want to go to another place just delve deeper into the weird universe we exist in already.
Through it all, Meg is still just as full of faults and strengths that she constantly underestimates. While she gets a love interest in the adorable Calvin O’Keefe (and I could write a whole separate essay about his character), he’s very firmly in the sidekick role in favor of Meg’s character arc. There’s no ‘yer a wizard, Harry’ moment for Meg, where she gets magical powers or realizes she’s the Chosen One. If that’s anyone in the book it’s Charles Wallace, and it’s just that kind of elitist thinking that leads to him getting hypnotized by an evil giant brain.
She saves the day with that same thing that gets her into fights with her brother’s bullies; Meg Murry just loves so damn much that nothing can snuff that out no matter how bad it gets.
At eleven years old, I needed that. I needed a story where a misfit girl could bring her dad back from the hell he’d gotten himself into, where she could save the day by saving her family because grand adventures don’t always need to have world-shattering stakes. It gave me hope and strength when I didn’t even know that was what I needed.
My dog-eared copy of A Wrinkle in Time remains on my bookshelf after half a dozen moves and still has the highlighted portions from when I wrote a high school paper on L’Engle’s usage of angels in her work. Her other books in the Time Quartet are all so dear to me that it hurts not to mention the loveliness that is A Wind in the Door or the weird Biblical sexiness of Many Waters…but it all started here and so A Wrinkle in Time holds a special place in my heart.