Summary: Death, Life, Meaning and other light topics.
Nothing reminds me more of the importance of not wasting time on bad books like reading a really good book. I cannot tell you why I have not read everything that Madeleine L’Engle has written by now. I have had the time, but I haven’t done it. I need to rectify the situation.
A couple years ago I blogged through the Time Quintet and then a couple of stand alone early novels. I picked up the first of the Austin Family books and was not excited about it. So it took me a while to read another.
I skipped to A Ring of Endless Light because I picked it up on kindle a while ago while it was on sale. But I actually ended up listening to it on audiobook from the library.
The Austin family series is focused on a family of 4 kids and their parents. There is nothing apparently special about the family except that they seem to be a pretty healthy, well-loved family.
All of A Ring of Endless Light is set on Seven Bay Island. This is the home of their Grandfather. Every summer they usually spend time with their wise retired pastor/missionary/scholar grandfather. This summer they are spending the whole summer because their grandfather is dying.
The Austin family father is a doctor and has just finished a year of research in New York City (in the Young Unicorns) and now is spending the summer writing a book of his research before they as a family move back to their small town life and he returns to being a general practice small town doctor.
Vicky is the main character of the series, slightly out of place in the scientifically oriented family, Vicky is the poet. She is almost 16, and three very different boys/men are love interests.
But this is really not a young adult romance story. This is a story about death, the meaning of life, the problem of evil and what it takes to continue to live. The book opens with the funeral of the ferry boat captian that we first meet in the first book of the series. He died saving the life of a young man at sea.
That young man is Zach, a very wealthy, but troubled 20 year old that followed Vicky around the previous summer in The Moon by Night. Then there is Leo, the 18 year old son of the ferry boat captain. And finally, Adam (again 20), the dolphin researcher and friend of Vicky’s older brother John. All three of these young men are interested in Vicky but all have been touched by death, Zach’s mother and his own wish for suicide, Leo’s father and Adam’s friend that Adam feels responsible for causing his death (in The Arm of the Starfish). (I thought throughout the book that it was a bit odd that all of them were pursuing a 15 year old, but that is really not an issue in the book.)
The book was published in 1980, but except for a few references to medical equipment, it is pretty timeless. The summer is spent on the beach, working and playing, with family breakfasts and dinners. The mother reads to them all as a family most nights. There is no tv or internet (and no complaints about being bored.)
The health of the Austin family and the quiet wisdom and faith of their grandfather really seems to be important to the book in a way that is unique with young adult books. There is much less angst. Vicky is not running away from her parents and rebelling. She is able to resist unwanted advances because she is fairly sure of herself (in part because she understands proper romantic relationships from her parents.)
L’Engle’s language and descriptions are given a proment place in A Ring of Endless Light. The good narration helps, but it is more than that. It makes weakly written books like the one I read last week appear pitiful in comparison.
Also, like few other young adult authors, L’Engle thinks that young adults can handle real ethical and intellectual content. This is a book that is concerned about death and the meaning of life. It has a romance component and a vaguely fantasy element with the dolphins, but at heart it is a book that explores meaning. It does not shy away from astrophysics, or other science or religion.
After I finished, I realized that I probably should have read the earlier books first. Three books in particular are referenced. The Arm of the Starfish (O’Keefe series) is the back story of Adam. The Young Unicorns is the immediate several months before this book. And the Moon by Night has the back story of Vicky’s relationship to Zach. But I don’t think I missed much of the actual story by not reading them first, just some of the fairly minor imagery and allusions.