Friday, May 23, 2014

A Wind in the Door (a book review post)

Moving on from my review of A Wrinkle in Time, we come to A Wind in the Door.
I never read this one when I was a kid, so I was coming at it completely fresh. And, at first, I thought it was making a difference in my reception of the book, because, at first, I was really enjoying it. The first third of the book was really good. I was impressed and everything.

Yes, there will be spoilers.

This one is two years after Wrinkle; Charles Wallace is in school and is having difficulties fitting in. He also thinks he's found a dragon in his brothers' garden. The first part of the book deals with the search for this dragon, and all of that section is interesting and enthralling. Including finding the "dragon," which turns out to be a cherubim. That spouts fire. I'm still not clear on why the cherubim spouted fire, but it did. We also meet Blajeny, a giant obsidian dude who is some kind of Teacher.

And that's where the book starts to fall apart. The first thing, which could be overlooked if it was the only thing, is that Calvin just happens to show up as Meg sneaks out to go looking for, well, she doesn't know what she's looking for. In fact, there's no clear reason why she sneaks out of the house. Here's the conundrum: It's after bedtime. Meg sneaks out, which is not the issue; the issue is that Calvin just shows up. Sure, he has his own reason for being there but, ostensibly, he should know that it's after the Murry children's bedtime, so why is he coming over to their house when Meg and Charles Wallace are expected to be asleep?

The next real issue is Blajeny. He's supposed to be a "Teacher," a term which is never really explained and, I suppose, shouldn't need to be explained except that he never teaches or does anything like teaching. What he does is announce to Meg that he is there to be her Teacher and that she will have three trials. So this is his method of teaching, to announce that she will have trials but, oh, he can't tell her what they will be or how to overcome them. He will, though, giver her the cherubim, Proginoskes, as a partner but, no, he doesn't know what the trials will be, either. This is another one of those tropes that I am overly tired of. And, well, how would Blajeny even know how many trials there would be if he didn't know what they would be, something he admits later. Basically, this was some ordeal he, some very powerful cosmic being, couldn't fix himself and needed Meg, a teenager, to do it for him.

Most of the rest of the book is torture. As soon as they get to the first trial, which is to determine the real Mr. Jenkins... Okay, hold on a moment. There was this scene in Wrinkle with Mr. Jenkins where he is questioning Meg about the whereabouts of her father. He seems to have an overly intense curiosity about it. Meg even wonders why Mr. Jenkins cares, basically, calls attention to the behavior to the reader, then... nothing. The character doesn't enter the book again, and I was left wondering what the heck that was all about. When he turned up in Wind, I thought, "Oh! We'll get to find out what Jenkins is up to" But no. Jenkins is up to nothing except being lame.

So, okay, Meg has to figure out which is the real Mr. Jenkins because he's been copied by fallen angels called Echthroi who want to X existence. But to start with, they want to X Charles Wallace. Yes, the "X"ing is how it is put in the book. They want to X everything. Why they copied Mr. Jenkins is never explained and has no logic to it other than a contrivance because Meg hates Jenkins but has been put into a position where she has to save him. What we get, then, is two chapters of Meg whining about how she can't do it and Proginoskes telling her she has to or he will X himself. They just kept going around and around that argument:
"I can't do it."
"You have to."
"I can't."
"Then I will fail the trial and will have to X myself."
"No, you can't do that."
"Then you have to choose." (Or, as they said in the book, she had to Name him.)
"I can't do it."
OH MY GOSH! Seriously! I needed two chapters of that! (More than 30 pages in  the edition I read (nearly 1/5 of the book).)

And once they get through that? Well, Jenkins joins their little team and we spend most of the rest of the book bouncing back and forth between him and Meg both going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about how they can't do whatever it is they need to do. Oh, yes, and Jenkins asking to just be sent back to Earth. "I'm no good. Why am I even here? Just send me back." Or something to that effect.

Not to mention that, again, the person (Blajeny in this one) provided who should be able to answer questions and explain what's going on and what to do and all of that fails to answer any questions and leaves them on their own to figure out what to do. Which, you know, sometimes is what you need to do with kids but not when someone's life is in the balance. It would be like coming up on a car accident and the ambulance is there, but the EMT tells you to take care of it instead then refuses to answer any questions about what you should do and, in fact, wanders off when you're focused on the guy bleeding out.

Mostly, I have found these books, so far, to be a place for L'Engle to dangle her ideas and philosophies with not enough story to really make the books worthwhile. Both books have focused on love as major plot device (the climax of the Wrinkle being Meg saving her brother by, basically, saying "I love you"). The message, then, of A Wind in the Door is that love is an action, not a feeling, and that's something I agree with, but I don't need 50 pages of anguish over it. I also don't need half of the book explaining and re-explaining "kything."

So, as I said last time, these books may be great for kids, but I'm just not being able to get into them as an adult. There are too many shortcuts and too many devices without reason and not enough answers both to the questions the characters have and the questions that I have as a reader. If you loved these as a kid, cherish that, but don't try to go back to them now. If you never read them, it's probably better to just not.


  1. I'm a little more okay with Teacher than with "object I can't tell you about." Teachers, especially for kids, do pose all kinds of tests, and it's not so out of the question that a giant abstract being would come to test Meg and not tell her what the tests are. I don't remember if Teacher didn't KNOW, or simply didn't TELL, Meg what the challenges are.

    The other complaint -- too much dragging on -- I find typical of YA books, overexplaining a LOT and having less plot than we're used to. So that's probably explicable.

    You do seem to like this one a bit better. I bet it's because you didn't have any preconceptions about how great it was.

    I do like that: "Love is an action." I never get the THEMES of stories. I'm bad at that.

  2. I never read them as a kid. I think the cover of the first one was too creepy for me to want to read it. (The cover of Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three was also really creepy but I read that and loved it so maybe that should have told me not to judge a book by its cover.) Anyway, I guess I won't start reading them now.

  3. I would love to see what you think of the Little White Horse. Maybe I had better re-read it. I tend to not have a very critical eye though. Unless it comes to grammar, spelling and typos.

  4. How could you finish reading it when it became torture? If I don't like a book, I close the cover and find someone who might like it. Then I give it a good home.

  5. Sounds like one of those moral stories with no real story. :-/

  6. It's lucky that kids have small brains, don't bother with things like logic, and never question stuff in books. Lucky for children's writers that is. I'm sure it reaches them on some psychological level related to their stage of development. But it's true that if you write for kids (especially for pre-teens), logic is a handicap.

  7. I read it as a kid, but remember not liking it, so this one I didn't suggest my boys read.
    I'm with Anne on the close the book and don't torture yourself. Life is too short to read crappy books, in my opinion. I don't even really have time to read good books...
    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  8. I really don't remember much about that book, although I think I liked it well enough (not enough to reread it, it seems). It might be fun to read it just to see what my writer brain makes of it, but ugh, that dialogue doesn't sound fun.

  9. Briane: I'd be okay with it if the Teacher did anything that was remotely teaching. All he did, however, was tell Meg she had to work with Proginoskes and, later, take them somewhere to be attacked. He really served the same purpose as the witches in the first: to deliver Meg to the conflict.

    Pat: The Prydain books are great. Those I have re-read as an adult and still liked.

    Jo: I'll put it on my maybe list.

    Anne: The first third was really good. I always have a hard time believing that the author can just full all the way off the cliff.

    Misha: There was a plot, just not a fleshed out plot.

    Lexa: See, I just don't believe that. I think you can get away with non-logic in kids' books, but I think kids appreciate logic, too. I mean, there are reasons Harry Potter as done so well.

    Tina: Sometimes I have areason to read a crappy book. Like Snow Crash.

    Jeanne: It's more than just the dialogue, but, yeah...

  10. I've never read these books, and you inspire me to continue not reading these books, and, in fact, not reading them with my kids. I was frustrated just reading the summary.

  11. Shannon: Well, kids seem to like them anyway, so you could give them the option of reading them on their own.

  12. ALL THIS, Andrew! I told you I barely survived Wrinkle, right? Well, I couldn't be paid to pick up any other L'Engle are a brave man.

    In other news, I re-read Charlotte's Web with my 5Y/o this month. I'm at a loss as to why an 8 y/o girl (Fern) is boy crazy....seems odd. I always thought she was older. But, alas, no.

  13. Veronica: You did say that, yes, but I'm kind of determined to read "all five" (even though there are really more than five). At this point, because she wrote some of them so much later, I want to see if the writing changes.

    I never read "the spider book," but I did love the animated movie when I was a kid.

  14. This was my least favorite of the original three when I read them as a kid. I think I may have read it when I was sick with a fever, too - made for very strange dreams.

  15. TAS: I loved the beginning; I really did. But the ending was horrible. And I didn't even get into the time continuity issues she had. They were rather inexcusable.