Friday, May 16, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time (a book review post)

So here we are back visiting another book from my childhood. Here's the background:

I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was about 10,

fourth or fifth grade; I loved it. The idea of a tesseract, a wrinkle in space and time, was just... it was amazing! I think, really, the book began and ended there. Okay, not quite; I also loved when they wrinkled onto the 2-D planet. And I think my friends and I tried to bounce all our balls in unison at least once or twice to mimic the kids on Camazotz. My nostalgia for this book says it's great.

At the time I read it, I didn't know there were more books and, then, the next book I got a hold of was A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third in the series. I did my first oral book report on that book but, now, I don't remember anything about it. The book, not the report. The report went... poorly. It was my first lesson in public speaking, and I never let nerves get the better of me again after that. At any rate, I never read A Wind in the Door and didn't even know there were two more books in the series until recently when we were getting them for my daughter. So, see, I thought, "Hey, I never read some of these and don't really remember much about the two I did read, but I loved Wrinkle when I was a kid, so I'll just read them all now!"

Which may have been a mistake...

A Wrinkle in Time did not live up to my memories of it. Not even close. The book does a lot of things that I just can't stand, now, as a reader, although I can understand the attraction of the book to kids, and I would still recommend it for kids not yet out of middle school. It does, after all, have some amazing concepts in it; they just don't make up for the places the book fails me as an adult reader.

My biggest issue with the book is the withholding of knowledge. Specifically from Meg. It's one thing to withhold from the reader, but I'm overtired of the whole thing where the characters in books (or movies) who have information withhold it from those who don't for no good reason. And there is no good reason in Wrinkle. Meg is constantly asking questions, and Charles Wallace, her mother, and the Ws just don't answer her. Frequently, it's passed off as "there's not time for that, right now," but, then, they spend tons of time just not doing anything in which those questions could have been answered. If you don't want to reveal the answers to your character, don't have your character asking the questions.

Beyond that, though, there are too many other unanswered questions. [There will be spoilers.] Questions like:
Why do the "witches" care if Mr. Murry gets rescued? The vague answer in the book is not sufficient.
If the "witches" do care, why did they wait so long? Ostensibly, I suppose this is because he was finally going to "break," but I don't really buy that. Why wait that long?
Why didn't IT just take care of the children? There's no good reason for allowing them to roam around.
Why is Charles Wallace hanging out with the giant brain when Meg goes back for him? No one else is hanging around with the giant brain, so why is Charles Wallace even still there?
Why are the "witches" stealing blankets and messing around with an abandoned house at all if they are just going to leave at the end of the story? None of that stuff made any sense at all.

I could go on.

Another thing I have really come to dislike: the giving of "gifts" that will help the heroes but not telling them how to use those gifts. How dumb is that?
"Here's a red button. Only push it if you really need to."
"What does it do?"
"I can't tell you that."
"How will I know when to use it?"
"I can't tell you that."
So Meg's usage of the spectacles that were given to her were less used as a "last resort" than as a "well, I can't think of anything else to try."
As a plot device, this ploy is rather lame.

The last major issue for me is the rather arbitrary behavior of some of the characters. Okay, mostly Meg. Specifically, the scene near the end when she's mad at her father then suddenly isn't. After spending years working with teens (and just knowing about people) that's how absolutely no one behaves, especially teens. But it's the arbitrary behavior of the "witches" that bothers me most, because, really, none of it makes any sense.

Now, I can see the attraction of all of that for 10-14 year old. I think frequently their worlds do look pretty arbitrary, so they don't question any of these behaviors; I certainly didn't when I read the book at that age, but, as an adult, an adult that knows that there generally are causes and reasons for things, I was left unsatisfied.

Basically, reading this book now, it feels to me like a skeleton of a book. Like it was the draft that L'Engle didn't go back to to flesh out. Or, maybe, it was the need to keep it at an appropriate length (as deemed by the publisher) to be desirable for the intended audience. All I know is that it needed more for me, now, as an adult then it needed for me, then, as a kid. Which is a significant point since the book is aimed, generally, at middle grade readers. It does leave me feeling somewhat ambivalent about the book overall, though. I will be continuing on in the series, though, so I'll let you know how those go as I get to them.


  1. The same thing happens to me with movies that I saw when I was younger. What seemed meaningful to my young self, has no relevance to my adult self.

  2. You should add the cover - I had to Google it to see if I knew it from the cover. (And I didn't.)
    There are some things from my childhood I won't revisit because I know I will be disappointed.

  3. It's quite amazing how our tastes change after we learn the "technical" side of trades. Before becoming an actress, I loved pretty much every show I watch. Now? Everything on TV is ruined!

  4. It makes me sad when authors use the withhold information act most times. I had thought about re-reading the series but wasn't sure if I would like it now. I wish I could make myself write a book and try to publish it. I have written two but they were for me lol. Maybe I'll do it soon.

  5. I recognised the title but never read it as a kid. By the sound of it, I surely won't do so now. My favourite kid's book, The Little White Horse, I have read as an adult and I still love it, but then I don't look for some of the things you do.

  6. I completely agree. There are things I loved as a kid, but when I look at them now, I find them trite and ridiculous. But children haven't experienced enough to know what's trite, and they actually enjoy the ridiculous! It takes an amazing person to put themselves in such a naive head-space and write for children. I've even given up writing for teens (YA) just coz I can't write for minds that are that idiotic anymore!!

  7. Anne: I haven't had that problem with movies, but there are a lot of TV shows I watched when I was younger that I look at now and say, "What was I thinking?"

    Alex: You know, I had the cover right there for the post and just forgot to put it in.

    randi: I don't think this one had anything to do with learning the technical side of writing; I think it was just growing up and wanting something more complex.

    Rebecca: You should do that!

    Jo: I've never heard of The Little White Horse other than you mentioning it, but, evidently, it was Rowling's favorite book as a kid, too.

    Lexa: What I've found in writing for teens is to just treat them as if they're adults. They'll get it, and they'll appreciate it.

  8. When we're kids we don't know any better. That's probably part of the magic.

  9. Maurice: I'm sure that it is. It's something I'm frequently trying to explain to my middle school students about why I'm not interested in the books they like.

  10. Ugh, I think oral reports are cruelty.

    I can't wait to see what you think or the rest of the series. There's so much about the first one, but ask about the others and you get a blank look.

  11. I loved this book as a kid, and have recommended it to both my boys, who have both read it. Neither liked it. "It was just too stupid, Mom." I think they may have picked up on the elements that irritated you as an adult reader. They have both always been more interested (and had the reading skills for) books aimed at a much older audience. Oh well, at least they're reading, right?

    I don't think I'd go back and read it again, especially not after what you've written here.

    My first disastrous book report was on The Hobbit.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  12. I read this last night and then had to do other things before I could comment, so I have had a night to think about it. Don't think that will make my comment any more intelligent.

    I have been thinking about re-reading this story, too, recently, because I only vaguely remember it and wanted to see if it was as good as I recall. Now your review suggests that it may not be. Some of that is because as we get more sophisticated we need better stories: what appealed at 11 doesn't at 45. Some of it is that in retrospect, you can question a lot of what you question here. My rule on such questions is if you noticed them the first time you read the book/watched the movie/etc., they are big problems that pull you out of the story. If you only noticed it in retrospect it's not such a big problem. The "Looper" thing is a good example: that question of why the mob would ONLY use the time travel device for that purpose occurred to me the moment I heard the plot, and so it's a big problem.

    So some of what you say is a big problem, some a little problem, because of course you read this again, so you have the ability to reflect instead of being carried along on the story.

    But the biggest problem you identify is one I hadn't ever really thought of before, and that's the plot device of "I can give you this but not tell you how to use it." Until I read that, I had never even THOUGHT about such a plot device, but of course you're right: it's through EVERYTHING in speculative fiction. And it DOESN'T make any sense.

    It's one thing if the failure to give information is accidental (Wizard dies before explaining the magic scroll) or because the person can't handle the information yet (In Robert Asprin's MYTH books, Skeeve is a novice magician who learns as he goes) but the problems you identify are pretty huge, and hadn't been brought up earlier. Definitely worth a longer post.

  13. Jeanne: I think everyone should be given the opportunity to do an oral report. They are not cruel for people who like them. And, actually, I am glad I had that experience, because I was never again scared or nervous to speak in front of people and chose oral presentations over other options when I got into high school.

    Tina: I was highly disappointed, because I sat down with it in such a good frame of mind.

    Briane: Well, I consider this reading, really, as a first time reading, because I didn't remember much more than "tesseract!" (It was only when I got to the part with the bouncing of the balls on Camazotz that I recalled, "Oh, yeah, we did that!") If I hadn't had a purpose in re-reading it, if I had just been coming upon this book for the first time, now, I might not have finished it even with as short as it is.

    Rajiv: Thanks!

  14. I hear you on this and I don't read a lot kid books (unless I'm reading it aloud to grandnieces or nephews). I do a little better with teen books but, seriously, I'm not in the designated audience for most of them.

    However, I did go back and get books I enjoyed as a kid to read to mine. I'm afraid I found some falling to the same type of issues you mention. And while I like this story as a kid, I have no desire to read it as an adult, lol!

    This kinda reminds me of a favorite school when I was a kid. I took my husband to visit that school when we travel adult eyes saw things so differently than the vision I had as a kid. For one, it was so small. I remembered it as big, lol!

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  15. Sia: I don't mind kid and teen books that don't "talk down" to their audience and treat them like nothing but kids. Unfortunately, that's what most of them do.

    I remember the first time I re-visited my elementary school once I was grown, and, yeah, the halls got SO SMALL!

  16. We change and mature with age and experience so it's quite natural to change our opinions on things we once loved. But it can be upsetting to burst the love bubble.

    I loved movies and songs in the 80's which make me cringe now, as do some of my crushes on famous people actually LOL!

  17. Shah: The thing that makes me cringe from the 80s is the clothes. And the hair. Not mine, of course.

  18. I recently reread a few books I loved as a kid and, you're right. They don't really hold up over time. Even Ramona the Spy, which is considered a timeless classic, has some things that would never work today. We just have changed the way we read... I think if you can get past that, you can enjoy those childhood books...but it's tough! I know I loved A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, but I don't really remember anything about it. I need to read it again. It's weird that even the plot slipped from my mind. I clearly remember reading it, though.

  19. Stephanie Faris: I think the books probably still do work for kids today. Both of my younger ones really enjoyed Wrinkle. I just think they don't know enough to see all the gaps, yet.

  20. I also read this book as a kid and enjoyed it but the one that stayed with me over the years was Swiftly Tilting Planet. I reread that one recently, too. I still love it but the writing definitely comes off a bit clunkier than when I was younger.

  21. TAS: I'm going to re-read that one as soon as my daughter finishes it.