Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review - A Wrinkle in Time

I first read A Wrinkle in Time in elementary school and had memories of enjoying it. Hearing that there are plans to turn it into a movie I pulled out my old copy for a re-read. My memories from childhood were very vague and some of my memories didn't turn up in the book at all (perhaps they were scenes from books 2 or 3 in the series which I also read as a kid). I did vaguely remember that this was a story of sci-fi/fantasy travel to strange worlds on a quest by kids to save their father. I also remembered there being some religious overtones which turned out to be even more overt than I remembered.

From a high level this is a fantasy adventure story for younger kids. The storyline is fairly simple and in spite of there being a number of strange characters and worlds, the details are pretty straightforward and easy to follow for kids. The book does introduce some heavier scientific and moralistic concepts but then explains them in ways that will be acceptable to young readers or those unfamiliar with the terms.

As an adult reader, I can see interesting nuances in the character and world building done by the author as she explores deeper concepts of good vs. evil and the true inner nature of a person. The characters aren't particularly deep or fleshed out but they serve to drive the story effectively and help build out the concepts presented. The children in the story each have their own strengths and flaws that they need to come to understand and work through. The mystical beings that help lead them on their journeys serve mostly as non-intrusive travel guides. They facilitate the journey without interfering...kind of like a parent helping a child learn to walk, they stand at the edges ready to try and catch the child as he/she stumbles but mostly they just explain what's going on and help ensure a safe environment as much as possible. Each of the different worlds visited by the travelers has its own unique bit of commentary on the state of the universe and the impact of the quest. Some worlds seem to serve as counterparts to one another to help the characters (and the reader) better understand the message the author is unfolding.

The moral overtones were a bit more specific than I remembered. I've seen this book/series compared somewhat to The Chronicles of Narnia. While Narnia is definitely filled with religious allegory, in many/most (all?) cases it is left somewhat abstracted so that a reader with no knowledge of Christianity or other religions may not notice the allegory (although in the last few Narnia books it becomes a little harder to miss). In Wrinkle in Time there is some imagery that is subtle rather than overt but there are also numerous very direct references made to Christian ideas of morality and teaching. There are multiple references to the Bible, God, angles, etc. The concept of good vs evil is presented as a very literal (albeit multi-worldly) battle being fought by God's warriors and those of the adversary. Personally, I had no problem with the religious overtones even though they were more heavy-handed than in Narnia but I felt like sometimes they were simply dangled in front of the reader without good reason or context other than to remind the reader of the importance of religious thought.

The writing is geared towards younger kids but is also filled with a lot of flowery almost poetic language. At times this is distracting though I mostly viewed it as part of the eccentricities of the otherworldly beings that are helping guide the children and narrate their journey (even though they aren't explicitly the narrator, I felt their influence in some of the flowery style). The dialog was simple and childlike and the plot development and resolution was clear cut and easy to follow. As an adult reader I wanted more development, more conflict, more depth but acknowledging this as a children's book I saw the style for what it is. Still, I would have liked a somewhat longer book as even at a child's level everything seemed to be resolved a bit too easily and fit too neatly into a nice little box.

Overall I enjoyed the book though I feel my childhood-self enjoyed it more than my adult-self. I found the simple writing and story refreshing and accessible even if it left me wanting a bit more. The moral of the story was nice even if the specific objective of this book was achieved a bit too easily and luckily though I suppose that can be a commentary that sometimes our struggles with evil will be easier to overcome than others. I plan to read the other books in the series to see how it plays out to my adult self but I'm not voraciously interested in diving in so it's probably a process I'll undertake over a longer wrinkle of time. I have no trouble recommending this as a good read for children. I feel like better kids/YA novels have come out in the decades since this was released. Still, this novel is a wholesome and simple dive into fantasy that would be accessible and enjoyable to a younger reader. My one reservation would be that today's kids might find the pacing too slow and/or the style too poetic for their 21st century tastes. Depending on the child, it could be something they would devour and rush through the rest of the series. Tough to tell.

3 out of 5 stars

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