Why are people so different from each other? Why can't everyone accept the differences and treat everyone with respect? Why do people always assume the worst about other people? And what would the world be like if everyone were the same?
For Meg Murry, these questions have critical import. As an adolescent who is always getting in trouble at school, both academically and behaviorally, she finds the ease with which her twin brothers manage to fit into society almost criminal, and her four-year old genius brother Charles just as impossible for not trying to correct the general impression of him as being a dolt. Worse, the gossip about her father, who has been missing for almost a year, makes her fly into a rage, as he is the person she looks to as able to fix all wrongs.
It is from this position that we start this wild adventure, a trip that will take Meg and Charles to several planets and multiple dimensions in search of their father, and will involve them in a fight with a truly evil entity, an entity that insists that the universe will run much better if only every intelligent being will think and act the same. Shepherded by Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit, who provide the means of travel and some important advice, the trip is a voyage of self-discovery, of learning the whys and wherefores of the world, of what is possible and impossible.
The themes L'Engle tackles in this book are as old as man: just what are good and evil, self-determination versus authoritarian dictates, what higher powers exist and what role do they play in shaping one's life, when should one bend to the dictates of custom and society and when should such be ignored, when must one depend on one's own abilities and not look for help from others. These themes are not baldly presented, but grow out of the story and her characters, and younger readers probably will not be too aware of them. At the same time, there is a certain amount of cuteness to the story and characters, which adults may find a little annoying, but is certainly appropriate to the intended reader age.
The conclusion of this book felt a little rushed, and the method of victory seemed far too simple, given the depth of theme that is buried in these pages. Perhaps that can be forgiven in a book that has several sequels, where these rough edges can be smoothed out. As an inventive, engaging book for young readers, this book is a winner, and still can be enjoyed by the adult reader.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)