L’Engle pulls us into the book’s world quickly. Only a confident writer could start with the most clichéd opening line ever: “It was a dark and stormy night.” And then we meet protagonist Meg Murry, wrapped in a quilt in her attic bedroom as a storm shakes the house.
Meg’s brooding. She's around 14 and doesn’t fit in at high school. The people in her town openly gossip about her family, calling Meg and her baby brother Charles Wallace “subnormal” and speculating that her scientist father has deserted the family (since no one has heard from him in nearly a year). The mysterious Mrs. Whatsit arrives during the storm and jumpstarts the plot by commenting to Meg’s mother, “... by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.” With the help of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who, Meg and Charles Wallace team up with new friend Calvin to travel across space to find Meg’s father.
Along the way, L’Engle broadens her readers’ minds and vocabulary with words like tesseract and sport (as related to biology.) L’Engle has a talent for explaining new concepts in a clear, entertaining way. Her characters face thought-provoking questions about life, humanity, and the nature of evil, and they find no easy answers. (This uncertainty in a children's book may have been too troubling for some adults and perhaps explains why this book has been banned in the past).
The protagonist Meg Murry grapples with hard issues. She’s strong from the very beginning, whether tackling a boy for his comments about Charles Wallace or facing down her principal when he tells her to accept that her father is gone for good. Her challenge is be brave, to take responsibility in shaping events. L’Engle observes of Meg: “She wanted to reach out and grab Calvin’s hand, but it seemed that ever since they had begun their journeyings she had been looking for a hand to hold, so she stuffed her fists into her pockets and walked along behind the boys.” Meg grows throughout the story, and when a difficult decision arises about who should go back to rescue Charles Wallace, she accepts responsibility, saying, “It has to be me. It can’t be anyone else.” Meg succeeds in the end because of all her strengths, all her faults, and all her love.
A Wrinkle in Time evokes strong emotions and resonates with readers. Even these many years later, I still find the encounters with antagonist IT genuinely frightening. I can’t read Chapter 12 without tearing up each and every time. The ending is satisfying, and as a reader, it's comforting to know that Meg's story isn't over. It continues in A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Meg also makes appearances in several other L’Engle books.