I am not usually one for rereads (unless it’s Harry Potter) because there are just so many books I want to read and I always have a hard time talking myself into reading something again instead of reading something new. However, with the new movie (here’s the trailer, if you haven’t seen it yet) coming out for this book so soon (a movie with rockstar women and feminist icons in most of the major roles, including the director herself – can I just say how much I cannot wait), I felt like maybe it was deserving of a refresher. Plus, it’s pretty much a “read in one sitting” sort of book. And I realized that, since the last time I read it was years and years ago, I realized I have no sort of review written for it at all. And for a book that I loved so much as a child, that seemed a bit criminal.
“A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” (from L’Engle’s 1963 Newberry Medal acceptance speech)
Meg is a bit different… She’s a freshman in high school and incredibly smart, but she’s floundering. She doesn’t really like how she looks, her father has disappeared (while doing some important work for the government, but that’s not what people are saying), her youngest brother, Charles Wallace, is seen as a little slow (even though he’s just a special/new kind of genius), and though her mother is trying to stay strong, Meg can see the toll things are taking on her. So Meg’s grades start to suffer, her anger and impatience are causing her to act out in school, and she just feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. One night a visitor drops by and everything changes. Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin (a boy from school a few years older than Meg and somehow “called” to meet them) are sent on an adventure through space and time to save Meg’s father. Helped along the way by some special characters, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, it turns out that they, with their peculiar talents, might be the only thing that can prevent the spread of an evil darkness across the universe.
This is such a fast and absorbing read. Like I said, pretty much a single sitting is all it takes. But it’s fantastic and whimsical and sweet and everything you could want from a middle grade adventure. In rereading it now, I can so easily see why it was one of my childhood favorites and how it’s stayed a classic. Meg is a wonderful heroine. She’s flawed and imperfect, and even though sometimes those flaws are harmful, she learns that sometimes they can also benefit her. Charles Wallace teaches us that pride can be dangerous, but if you allow them, your friends and family can help guide you and use it for good. And Calvin shows us that not everything is how it seems – that people who, on the outside, look like they fit in, are perhaps just as lost inside. All three together go through a transformation throughout the book that will resonate with every young child everywhere: no matter who you are, you feel like something about you is too different. But in the end, maybe those differences are ok. They make us who we are and what would be the point of living if we were all exactly alike?
There are some things that now, reading as an adult, I could take issue with. I think that Meg is written very immaturely for a high schooler, especially when considered in comparison with Charles Wallace’s youthful precociousness. The references to God are very overt and, for me, frustrating – I dislike the concept of light/goodness always having to be promoted in conjunction with some sort of holy power. And there are some pacing and dialogue moments that seem to simplistic or childish, even for a YA/middle grade novel like this. However, all that is easily overlooked when I think about the power of good this book has brought to me and so many others. And the nostalgia in reading it for sure makes any downsides worth it. Plus, there is so much more that I love. Calvin and Meg are adorable. Charles Wallace is the best younger brother character (and I’m a sucked for a well written younger brother, having two myself). Meg’s parents are a great mix of nerdy and sweet. The 3 “witches” are still some of my favorite characters of all time, with their little quirks and eccentricities. I would, still, give anything to have them pop up in my life from time to time. And the story itself is just a phenomenal and extraordinary adventure about the power of light, goodness, love and family (no matter what that family looks like).
Straight up, this book is every young girl’s fantasy. The chance to step up and save the day, even when you are afraid, not sure that you can, and are convinced that there is nothing special enough about you that makes you the right choice. It’s the [mostly] hidden need that we all have to be the hero, the one who has what it takes. And it’s so important that the strength needed here, for everyone, to overcome the darkness comes from inside, a strength that is not physical, but emotional. It’s this kind of strength that we are all so sorely lacking today, and as the darkness starts to overcome the world we are living in, it will take heroines like Meg to find the light inside them and spread it back into the world. The message here is universal and timeless, and despite this being a children’s book, it’s a message we all should embrace and share.