Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Review: Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle


Title: Meet the Austins
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 1997 edition, hardcover, 224 pages
Age: 9-12 years
ISBN-10:
0374349290
ISBN-13:
978-0374349295

When the first thing Maggy, just-arrived house guest, says to Vicky is “You’re not as pretty as Suzy,” Vicky’s not impressed. The rambunctious, tactless Maggy can’t be gone too soon, as far as she’s concerned, even though the poor kid is newly orphaned. But it seems Maggy has come to stay – for a while at least. In Meet the Austins, Madeleine L’Engle tells the story of how Maggy changes as a result of living with the warm, wise Austin family. Of course all the family adventures and interactions rub edges off the Austin children as well. Though the story was first published in 1960, it’s still an entertaining and worthwhile read.

Twelve-year-old Vicky Austin tells the story and the plot is an easy-to-follow series of disastrous and rollicking family adventures which take place over about nine months. My favorite character, besides Vicky – who is a sensitive, self-aware narrator – is little brother Rob with his long detailed prayers. I also love how the parents are portrayed – for once in a kids’ book they aren’t the enemy, even though they scold, send the kids to bed early whenever they want them out of the way, and spank them (indeed– I think I’m going to faint!). And of course one can’t but be fascinated by the spoiled and spunky Maggy and her general badness.

Though the language, plot and characters are suitable for children (9-12 is the rating given), there is richness and wisdom for adult readers too. I loved the upholding of time-tested values like respect, helpfulness, obedience, the importance of family – all done with big doses of compassion and dollops of kid-friendly fun.

I also appreciated the heavy topics L’Engle addresses in the story, topics like faith, God, prayer, death, and what happens after death. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this because this is a coming-of-age story and such subjects are well within the purview of the genre.

I had forgotten how enjoyable and deep kids’ books can be. This 50-year-old treasure was a good reminder!

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