If you’d asked me in fifth grade what my favorite book was, I’d have said A Wrinkle in Time. I’m sure I pictured myself as cool Meg Murry—I had glasses too! I liked math too!—and it’s entirely probable that Calvin O’Keefe, that tall, red-haired proto-Weasley brother, was my first crush.
Re-reading the book as an adult, my very first thought was, “Wait, Meg’s not cool?” In fact, she’s hopelessly insecure, has braces (I thought braces were cool in fifth grade), her only friend is her five-year-old brother, and she spends large portions of the book talking about what a loser she is. In the opening pages of the book she says to her cat, “Just be glad you’re a kitten and not a monster like me.” Even Madeleine L’Engle herself said, “Who would’ve wanted to be like Meg?”
But on further reflection, I feel I judged her too harshly, too soon. Her father is missing and everyone in town thinks he’s off having an affair—even her school principal rags on her about it. She doesn’t quite fit in with her family. Charles Wallace is a baby genius, the twins Sandy and Dennys (I always, always thought this was pronounced Denny’s but now I realize that it’s just a bizarre spelling of Dennis) are All-American Abercrombie dudes, and her parents are genius scientists. She’s the odd one out, and she’s stubborn and angry—which, incidentally, are the qualities that ultimately end up helping her save the day.
But all of this is not to say it’s not still a great book, worthy of being the classic it is. I realize it’s not the book’s fault. It’s my fault, for getting older, more cynical. I’m so used to the extensive world-building (and 500+ pages) that’s so common in fantasy and sci-fi novels today, that it’s as if I forgot how to fill in the details with my own mind. Reading the book now, I was most surprised by how short it is—the copy I read was under 250 pages. (It’s much more of a middle grade book than I remembered too.)
And that’s the key thing about A Wrinkle in Time. It’s about the imagination that we have as children, that we sometimes lose as adults. In an interview L’Engle said that adults often don’t like or understand the book because, “A Wrinkle in Time assumes we know how to use our imaginations. We know how to say, ‘Yes, but what if …’” This is a book meant for children, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Thinking back, I’m pretty sure my child self imagined me in place of Meg, having cool space adventures—and that’s why I loved it. I got to tesseract through space and meet friendly aliens and hold hands (so much hand holding!) with Calvin, all in my wild imagination. It’s the book that got me, and thousands of other kids, interested in the fantastical—and reading—in the first place. It’s even why one woman, Janice Voss, became an astronaut. A Wrinkle in Time created the space, especially for girls, to be interested in science fiction and fantasy, and to go on to be dedicated readers and writers of the genre.
On re-read, it’s not still my favorite book (sorry fifth grade Molly!), but I consider it a gateway book that led to many of my favorites. In fact, my favorite book in recent history is A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray—about a girl named Marguerite (occasionally called Meg), who travels through alternate dimensions, with her cute love interest, to save her brilliant scientist father. Sound familiar?
Madeleine L'Engle didn't just write A Wrinkle in Time! Check out her critically acclaimed adult fiction.
Featured Image: Cover of A Wrinkle in Time, U.K. edition