Friday, May 13, 2011

At the used bookstore, I picked up Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, which I remember liking as a kid, and the nice old lady there said, "When you read it as an adult, it's so much better."

Mmmmm, well, no, that was not my experience.

The main character, Meg, is a good YA heroine. She gets picked on for being smart. She acts out. She's impatient. I can dig it. I spent most of junior high not living up to my potential.

But she never gets to do anything with that personality. In fact, she barely gets to do anything at all. The real hero is her telepathic savant five year old brother, Charles Wallace, and possibly a guy from her school, Calvin, who she essentially bumps into. Charles Wallace has been in touch with three supernatural entities, who know where her missing father is.

And when the entities whisk Charles Wallace off, she's along for the ride. I don't think she makes a single decision other than "hold on!" until 80% through the story, when she decides to risk her life to save her kid brother.

Which, granted, is pretty important. But pretty late, too. You couldn't write a YA novel like that these days. Your publisher would say, "But your heroine is passive!"

I guess there weren't a lot of kickass young female heroines in 1962. The book won the Newbery Award and a slew of others.

I'd like to say, "And yet it has something." But it disappointed me. It has a typical 1962-ish equation of evil with conformity. (After I grew up, I discovered that the 1960's lied to us about conformity. It's sort of important.) It has a Big Bad that amounts to a Big Black Cloud.

I sort of felt that it was the kind of science fantasy that someone writes when they don't actually like speculative fiction. I'm told Madeleine L'Engle's favorite book is Anna Karenina. Beware of speculative fiction authors whose favorite books aren't spec fiction. Personally, much as I enjoyed War and Peace, my favorite books -- the ones I would most like to read again for the first time, if I could, and the ones I reread when I can -- are all spec fiction, by Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson.

What books have you read that didn't hold up?



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