A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book offers a fascinating range of characters and concepts, though some readers might find the shifting storylines confusing. Spanning prehistoric times to the present, the story is a virtual trip through the history of the Americas as well as a complex family saga. The text blends multiple points of view, imagery, and poetry, and touches on violence in a non-direct way by injecting the threat of nuclear war into the story line.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
On Thanksgiving Day, recently married Meg Murry O'Keefe is visiting her family when her father receives a call from the president. A power-hungry South American dictator called "Mad Dog" Branzillo is threatening nuclear war. The news prompts Meg's strange mother-in-law, who shares Branzillo's ancestry, to recite an ancient family rune that causes strange weather disturbances.
It's up to Meg's fifteen-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, to use the rune as he journeys through time, searching for the "Might Have Beens" that led to this crisis. With a unicorn named Gaudior as his guide, Charles Wallace travels in and out of five of Branzillo's ancestors, from prehistoric time tothe 1860s, encountering tensions between two feuding brothers in each generation.
Helped by Meg, who wordlessly links her thoughts with his through kything, Charles Wallace changes the pattern of history and saves the world from destruction.
Is it any good?
The saga is well crafted with some scenes that are truly exciting, such as the rescue of a woman in Puritan times from being hanged for witchcraft. The plot does demand close attention, though. For instance, every generation Charles Wallace visits has a blue-eyed descendant of the Native American woman Zyll, and one 12-year-old reader couldn't keep all the variations on her name (Zylle, Zillah, Zillie) straight.
L'Engle offers plenty of clues about the interlocking generations, which are fun to piece together. In fact, some characters arrive very late at conclusions the reader will have reached early on. ("Duh!" said the 12-year-old at one point, heaping scorn on Mrs. Murry's two Ph.D.s.) Criticism aside, patient readers will be rewarded with a well-sustained story line and a spine-tingling ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this story connects to other books in the Chronos Quartet series. Which of these characters have appeared in the author's other books? In what ways have they changed or grown since we first met them? Families can also discuss the broader concept of "Might-Have-Beens." Is there any might-have-been moment in your own life that you'd like to go back and change?