A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Somewhat science-fiction with time traveling children, A Wrinkle in Time is a quick, easy read as an adult. I’ve known about this book for as long as I can remember, even bought my daughter a copy from Scholastic Readers, but had never read it. I needed a Middle-grade read for May’s GirlXOXO Monthly Motif challenge and this fit the theme of books I’d been reading lately.
Under the guidance of three wise, funny, little old lady guardian angels, three children enter the 5th dimension in search of the father of two of them who disappeared while doing top secret research on time travel. What follows are lesson learning challenges on kindness, confidence, acceptance and belonging. The children stumble into a Stepford Wives type of community where everything is “perfect”, everyone the same and no one feels anything. They disrupt the Eden by finding the strength to be themselves, to support each other through the dark times and that inner confidence allows them to break their father from his imprisonment there.
I’m sure it has retained its popularity among parents and children alike for the same reasons The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter have – it lets you believe that having the courage to just be yourself will enable you to conquer all your fears and challenges and everything will be okay in the end.
The book was written in 1962, so I’m particularly impressed by the author’s main protagonist being a young girl. Meg has the strength her brother lacks, and it is her inner force that pulls him through. It is her strength that breaks the prisoned glass and allows them to bring their father home. I have vivid memories of a librarian in middle school giving me a book on Amelia Earhart to read which flew in the face of my very strict, sexist household where I was taught to be quiet, nice no matter what, that my brothers and father were more important and being pretty was the only life goal a girl should have. So while I didn’t find Earhart’s courage as a young girl, somewhere in the back of my mind, that book stuck with me and when I had a daughter, I understood how important it was and was always looking for books with a strong female heroine for her to read. I wish I could have been a better role model of strong women myself, but I’m grateful this book, and many others were there for her. And to that Washington Middle School librarian, thank you.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
This was just a pleasure read. People were talking about it. I saw it on a colleague’s desk and she was really enjoying it, so I borrowed a copy from my beloved Timberland Regional Library. Thousands of miles away from home, and they still think of ways to serve me and allow me to check out books to fall in love with. Typing this makes realize the book also fits a PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt. Bonus.
Haig’s novel is a melancholic tale of second chances interspersed with transcendentalism. Nora finds herself in a lonely, miserable life at a final crossroads, when she stumbles across a surreal library which holds her other life stories. Each book drops her into the life she would have lived if she made a different choice when faced with a decision. So she goes back and makes the other choices: a different career, not leaving a partner, having a child, staying close to her family and best friend. Each new choice reveals a different life and she reads book after book trying on lives of varying lengths to find the one that fits her best.
The book offers the timeless question of regrets over paths not taken – would you start over if you could? – or learn to be grateful with the life you have? Nora answers that question in her own way at the end and the reader is left to ponder how they would answer it.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
This was my second Literati book club shipment with Susan Orleans. Similar to Midnight Library, and written almost a decade prior, the novel also explores the chance to do it all over, to correct the mistakes of the past. It does it differently though in that Ursula keeps dying and being reborn into a different life. From being stillborn, to dying as a a child, to living a lifetime, she keeps starting over. In fact, when reading the second chapter, I was momentarily confused and had to look up what the book was about. Then I started over.
Life After Life is a long, heart-warming read, full of beautiful prose and heart stopping sentences. Where Nora drops into her new life with full knowledge of her past one, Ursula only retains the deeply etched memories of her past life as a sort of deja vu in her new one. Something is familiar, but she can’t quite put her finger on it. She knows something is about to happen, but doesn’t know how she knows. With each life, she retains more. So while Nora tries on unfamiliar lives in search of a better one, Ursula builds on past lives to create the best one for not just her, but those around her.
On the surface, both books deal with second chances and corrective time travel. But Atkinson’s book takes on the issues of the time in which Ursula is living – World War II, Nazis, Women’s Rights, the Labor Movement. Haig’s novel focuses solely on a suicidal woman looking for a happiness she thinks she’s lost. Both books are well-written and easy to lose yourself in and set you to pondering your own choices and how life might have been different. Not better, not worse, just different. Both books will leave you with an understanding that every choice, even the small ones, matter and the compilation of them have brought you to the life you have now, made you who you are. If you don’t like this life, or this version of yourself, throwing away the past may only create other regrets, but making a different choice now still offers the possibility of a better future.
All of these books offer up a naively privileged view that life is infinite in its possibilities and you just have to be strong enough to overcome.