This cover is from before my time, but it is rad
A Wrinkle in Time
Madeleine L'Engle, 1962

After an American scientist disappears, a trio of immortal creatures help his awkward pubescent daughter Meg and prodigious five-year-old son Charles Wallace travel to a hive-mind planet to rescue him.

Previous reactions
I first read this book in fifth grade. I remember that I thought it was cool, but aside from that I don't think I got much of anything out of it, nor was I really capable of getting much of anything out of anything.

I reread it when I was thirteen and really liked it — I had missed the romance angle the first time around and this time I was all "squeeeee" when Calvin remarks upon Meg's "dream-boat eyes" and whatnot. Its clan of genius outcasts also hit all those notes that would draw me to Salinger's Glass family a few years later.

I reread it again after college and was extremely disappointed. It seemed like a pretty transparent anti-communist screed and little more. I have since learned that in fact L'Engle was also weighing in on a theological dispute within Christianity, but that could hardly be of less interest to me.

Latest reaction (spoilers)
One thing that jumped out at me this time around was the extent to which Madeleine L'Engle is sort of the anti-Sleator, at least in one respect. In my article on William Sleator's first 25 books I pointed out that Sleator's characters are always extremely reticent to express their feelings for each other. A standard Sleator romantic arc goes: "Girl meets boy. Girl and boy discover that they share a superpower, have harrowing adventures, save each other's lives. Girl and boy will clearly be spending the rest of their lives together. Girl and boy consider expressing their bond with a handshake or by saying 'I like you' or something but decide that might be too intimate."

A Wrinkle in Time has the same sort of science-fictiony setting as Sleator's books, with interplanetary travel through the fifth dimension and whatnot. But, famously, L'Engle ends the book with an expression of naked emotion that would make a Sleator character's head explode. For the three of you out there who have never read this book, Charles Wallace has been incorporated into the hive mind, which is controlled by a gigantic pulsing brain called IT. Meg learns from her immortal guides that she alone can rescue him, for she is closest to him, and she has "something IT has not." This, of course, is love. And while Meg can't bring herself to love IT, she can love Charles Wallace. "I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you." So dangerous, this sort of thing! The slightest off note and you end up with Hallmark treacle. But if you don't risk it, you condemn yourself to writing about a world of pathologically cautious people, their hearts imprisoned in cloven pines.

Now, this was my fourth time through this book, so I knew how it ended. But I had forgotten the setup. Before Meg tells Charles Wallace that she loves him, one of the three immortals, Mrs. Whatsit, tells Meg that she loves her. Then Meg lands on the hive-mind planet, and IT, via Charles Wallace, tries to get her to give up by convincing her that the immortals are actually working for IT and have sent her here to be absorbed. "Mrs. Whatsit hates you," Charles Wallace says. And this is the "fatal mistake," for Meg says, "automatically," that Mrs. Whatsit loves her, and then she knows what she has to do to win.

Coincidentally, I was in L.A. this past week working on a collaborative project, and I found myself arguing for a concluding moment along these lines, an unadorned expression of love. I lost this battle; the senior writer pointed out that it wouldn't provide any extra information, because we already know those two characters love each other. "But they've never said it flat-out," I said. "But it's obvious," he countered.

And that was when it hit me. I totally cannot relate to a character who takes being loved for granted. It just seems so presumptuous. And it occurred to me when I reread A Wrinkle in Time that if I were in Meg's place, IT's gambit would totally have worked. What, I'm supposed to think that Mrs. Whatsit loves me? Just because she's been helping me all this time and told me she loved me two minutes ago? That was two minutes ago! Things change! And she was probably lying anyway. Meg's many faults play a big role in the story, but for all her faults, she is fundamentally a healthier creature than I am and can actually take Mrs. Whatsit at her word. I'm so glad to have realized this, because I now know that I have to take the following vow: if and when I ever have kids, my top priority is going to be making sure that they know, that they really know, know with every cell in their bodies, that they are loved.

Now if only I knew how to do that...

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