Camilla by Madeline L’Engle

I am on vacation this week, so this is a ‘best of’ review.

CamillaSummary: Coming of age novel the way coming of age novels should be written.  All about realizing that the world does not revolve around you.

The book description on Amazon does not do this book justice. It is a coming of age book, the way coming of age books should be written. It is about first love, but more about the awareness that you are no longer a child, that your parents cannot protect you and that things do not always go the way you would like them to.

I have decided that I need to be a bit more intentional about my fiction reading.  I have a hard time writing fiction reviews, so I think I do not read as much fiction as I should because I am never sure how to write about it.  It is even harder to write about classic fiction that many have already read.  It is unlikely that I will ever be able to say anything clever or unique about it.  But fiction is important.  So I am going to try to read at least one fiction book a week for a while.

It has been a while since I have read Madeline L’Engle.  I was a great fan of her Wrinkle in Time books, especially the third, A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  But I do not think I have read more than six or eight of her books total.  I honestly thought I picked up a different book when I bought this one.  But Camilla was a good choice.  It has a strangely timeless quality to the writing, even if it was first published in 1951.  There are very few links to a particular time, even though it mentions World War II and the Korean War is referenced, although not by name.

Camilla is a 15-year-old girl from a well off Park Avenue family.  The book opens with Camilla walking in on her mother kissing another man.  There are some pretty serious themes in this book.  Even though it is listed as young adult and the reading level would be comfortable for middle school or early high school, I am not sure that is the age it is best suited.  Throughout the book affairs, alcoholism, suicide and war are clearly discussed.  Although in a somewhat veiled way.  They are not brought out to titillate or be controversial, they are just part of the life of the character and part of what it means to grow up.

The story is told from the first person and very internally.  The best parts of the book are Camilla’s musings about what the world means.  One of the characters asks, “Do you suppose God feels about his creation, the world and its people like a writer feels about his work?  Same joy of inspiration and then the horrible depression when it goes wrong, when it loses its nobility of conception. Wouldn’t blame him for ripping this one out of the typewriter and stuffing it into the incinerator.”  This is not a happy book, but I think it is fairly honest about what it means to be a teenager, without being too depressing or glossing over reality. The general tone is one of sweet sadness.

When browsing through the Amazon reviews, there were a lot of complaints about the way the book ended.  I am not going to give away the ending, but even though it is not a happy ending, it fits with the tone outlook of the book.  I am not excited about the ending, but it is a reasonable way for the book to end.

In 1996, Madeline L’Engle wrote a follow-up book, A Live Coal in the Sea.  It tells the story of Camilla’s life from college as Camilla recounts it to her granddaughter.

Note: Christianity Today reported recently that Camilla is being made into a full length movie.

Purchase Links: PaperbackHardcoverKindle Audiobook


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