Book Reviews

Wrinkled Time and Utter Confusion

When I first saw the trailer for Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time, released earlier this year, I had no earthly idea what I had just seen, which was so odd to me because I remembered reading the book in elementary school. It was one of the few books I never finished, but I read a good chunk, so it was surprising that nothing from the trailer looked familiar. Had the title not appeared at the end, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that movie was supposed to be. Why couldn’t I remember it? That question irked me every time I saw some ad for the then upcoming film, so I decided to go out and buy the book to jog my memory. Thus, A Wrinkle In Time worked its way onto my to-read list, and now that I’ve finished it, it’s time to talk about it!

istock_000042993730_smallIn a nutshell, the story follows a brilliant but outcast teenage girl named Margaret “Meg” Murry, who goes on a trip though time and space to rescue her physicist father, who went missing prior to the events in the novel. In 200 pages, we’re taken to different planets as Meg, her younger brother, Charles Wallace (who’s something of a genius), and her friend, the popular and liked Calvin O’Keefe, lead the rescue mission to save Mr. Murry.

My feelings about this book are conflicted, there’s a lot to like, but even more to dislike. Days after reading it I’m still not sure where I stand with my opinion on it. I can’t definitively say whether I liked it or not.

To start with what I love about the book, I’ll talk about the heroine, Meg Murry, a bespectacled, messy-haired, braces-wearing outcast who’s prone to emotional outbursts. She’s literally me when I was in middle school! Granted, her outbursts were caused by the pain of a missing parent and mine were caused by… general teenage angst… but still. Meg and I were basically the same person, and it’s always cool to see bits of yourself represented in your entertainment. I also really liked the overall plot of the book, how could you not? Three inexperienced kids being whisked into random bits of the universe to save a grown man, what could possibly go wrong? I love reading stories like that! Unfortunately, that’s about as far as I go with what I actually liked about the book: Meg and space travel.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Wrinkle’s target audience isn’t exactly twenty-two-year-olds and its writing reflects that, but it includes wording that’s pretty advanced for its actual target audience at the same time. While rereading this book I could completely understand why at nine years old I had to eventually put it down: some of the word choice was just way too advanced for me back then. It’s hard to keep reading a book when every other paragraph contains a word you don’t know and you’re not experienced enough in drawing inferences from surrounding text to figure out what it means. Even at twenty-two I would still be distracted by L’Engle’s word choice when words difficult for the target age group would stick out like sore thumbs in comparison to the rest of the elementary text. I think I get what L’Engle was trying to do: sprinkling in vocabulary to give the book a more mature edge, but the words just didn’t flow. The sprinkle was more like a big chunk in the text that made it hard to swallow.

I also couldn’t take the book’s dialogue seriously. Imagining three kids, and a six-year-old (even a special one like Charles Wallace) speaking the way L’Engle wrote was just ridiculous. Critiquing dialogue in a book about traveling through space might seem petty, but the unbelievable speaking voices of these characters made them sound less realistic the further I got into the book. I found myself rolling my eyes every other page. For example. Meg screams out “Father!” at the most inopportune times; it just didn’t make sense and fit poorly into the scene.

Finally, the resolution was squeezed into the last three pages of the book and I cannot say I was at all satisfied with an ending that felt so rushed! (You might want to skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending yet!) Meg repeatedly tells her hypnotized brother (being controlled by a dismembered brain called IT, which is supposed to embody evil throughout the universe) she loves him, frees him from IT’s control, and she, Charles Wallace, Calvin and Mr. Murry somehow find themselves back home, happily reunited with family. But how do they get back? Did Meg tesser (the form of travel used to navigate through space and time)? If not, how did they get back? Did Meg actually defeat IT? What was The Black Thing’s significance in all this if it had nothing to do with Mr. Murry and Charles Wallace’s rescue? Are IT and The Black Thing somehow related? Does Meg’s possible defeat of IT denote a possible defeat of The Black Thing? I just had SO many questions when I finished reading that there was no way I could have been satisfied with the ending. To be fair, A Wrinkle In Time is the first of a quintet, so these questions could absolutely be answered in one of the remaining four books, but that doesn’t help the feeling I got that L’Engle was just tired of writing by the end of the book so she just slapped together a happy ending and what I’m sure she intended to be a captivating cliffhanger where the Mrs appear to Meg and then disappear after telling her they need to complete another mission.

There were also religious references made in the book that added absolutely nothing to the text, which means they probably weren’t any more than a nod to the author’s own religious beliefs. Know that I’ve got no problem with religion in fantasy books! I actually think it’s interesting when authors are able to include religious elements into fantasy stories especially since I grew up being taught that fantasy and religion were two completely different things that never crossed paths, so seeing the two intersect is always fascinating to me. However, in Wrinkle, religion added nothing to the book. The Bible and Jesus Christ were mentioned… and then they were gone. If L’Engle was going to throw religion into the book I would have loved to see it flushed further out into the plot instead of throwing it in there and quickly moving past it.

This actually mirrors one last glaring flaw I couldn’t get past with this book: the underdevelopment. So many parts of the book feel rushed, the characters feel underdeveloped (I would have loved more characterization of Calvin), and the descriptions of scenery were just flat. I don’t know how anyone could manage to make a planet filled with creatures who have tentacles and eye-less faces sound boring, but for me, L’Engle did. There was so much potential to really flush out the plot, the characters, and the setting, and she just didn’t do that, so even though I liked Wrinkle’s overall plot, I can’t say the same for the entirety of the actual book.

I wasn’t as charmed with this book as I hoped I would be, but I’m still glad I finished it. I can totally admit that so much of my judgment is clouded by my age. Had I read this book when I was in middle school, being older than nine but still young enough to appreciate the fantasy of it all without question, it could be one of my absolute favorites. Or I could have hated it and still found it confusing and unsatisfying, I honestly don’t know. My feelings about Wrinkle aside, though, I would still encourage someone, especially a middle schooler, to give this book a chance. It’s always great for kids to read books that send the messages of embracing their flaws, standing up to evil, and never giving up on loved ones, even if that message is confusing and underdeveloped.

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