The Book That Changed My Life

 

My battered copies of the books, purchased with my own allowance money from a used bookstore, once upon a time.

A Wrinkle In Time is  a strong contender for my favorite book ever. It was so influential in ways that I really did not realize until reflecting upon it. I don’t know that I’ve ever read any other book as many times. I loved the whole series so much as a kid. There are four other companion books, but A Wrinkle In Time stands out for many reasons. (Spoilers ahead)

The Murry family has many adventures, but this one is Meg’s. And Meg Murry was the first time I remember seeing myself in literature. As a weird (not quirky, weird) black girl growing up in the suburbs in the late 90s, I didn’t have a lot of role models. I came of age in the girl power era, but I was no Scary Spice. I was too young to model myself after Aaliyah, En Vogue, or any other R&B songstress. I couldn’t wear makeup, much less a midriff top! I wasn’t sassy like the black friends on various Disney and Nickelodeon shows. But Meg was me. She has her good qualities–super intelligent, compassionate, fiercely loyal to her family. But she was also stubborn, sarcastic, didn’t trust easily and grappled with moments of crippling self-doubt. Intellectually, she knows she is competent and has potential. Emotionally, she is unsure of her place in the world and her unpopularity matters more to her than she’ll ever admit. Whenever I was feeling down, her story would remind me that all the things people mocked me for were part of what made me strong.

Meg’s journey to self acceptance is why I always turned to this book whenever I needed comfort. Grade school was a bit hellish for me, and the book gave me reassurance that one day I’d leave behind the hell that was grade school, and make a meaningful life for myself.  I especially love that Meg gets a happy ending, not just here but in future books. She becomes a physicist and marries Calvin, and has kids of her own. And even though she’s happy, she’s still the same prickly old Meg.

The philosophy of this book is another reason why I love it. It seamlessly blends religious notions of good and evil with the reality of science and technology. The two coexist as a matter of fact. Whether they do so harmoniously is a function of how humanity uses them. This book was a turning point for me in my faith. I read it around the same time I got serious about church and decided to read the Bible all the way through for myself (and I did, except I copped out on Revelations because it was too scary). I was starting to ask questions about how the concepts I learned about in school–the Big Bang Theory, evolution, etc–should affect how I felt about Christian teachings. These books planted the idea that my faith and my belief in science were not contradictory or mutually exclusive. The message that science could take us to the ends of the universe but love remains the most powerful force was revolutionary to me, and also made perfect sense. Something about that just felt right in my spirit, and that has guided my spirituality ever since.

There is also a political message here. Evil perpetrates itself in a million different mundane ways. The cruelty of schoolchildren; the petty tyranny of an authority figure; an abusive parent; the idea that conformity is the same thing as equality. The second book in the series addresses the idea of wholeness within oneself, and establishing harmony within the universe that is your own body and cellular makeup. It’s really heady stuff, especially for  young people, but the beauty of these books is that they don’t talk down to you. They challenge you.

Is it a perfect book? Not by any means. But it spoke to me, and resonated with me, and the heart of this outweighed any criticisms I might make about style or technique. It was a life changer, and I can’t ask for anything more.

I just saw the Wrinkle In TIme movie, which inspired this whole post. As much as I love the book, I think it’s important to evaluate the movie on its own merits. I think it succeeds on all counts. It’s amazing by itself, and also a worthy successor to the book. Seeing a black girl play Meg onscreen was just wonderful. I felt some of the same magic that I felt during Black Panther because representation matters. Aside from that, Ava DuVernay really captured the magic and the spirit of the books. There were some omissions and changes compared to the book but nothing that affected the core plot. I laughed, I cried, I remembered the child I used to be. It’s been more than 10 years since I last read the books and I felt that same sense of wonder that I did on my very first reading. It was no small feat but Miss Ava knocked it out of the park! (Spoilers ahead, again)

However, I went into this movie with a little trepidation because the reviews were so mixed. A lot of people seem to think that this just doesn’t live up to the hype. I think a big part of it is that we are so used to big, splashy, apocaplyptic blockbusters. The stakes were much lower here. The real obstacle here is internal: Meg’s inability to love herself. Saving the world is just a side effect. In fact, if Meg fails, the world won’t end immediately. It’s just that evil will keep getting stronger on Earth until it takes over entirely. Ultimately, her win doesn’t even defeat Camazotz entirely. But it pushes him back and gives them time to fight another day.

Another part of the criticism is that Meg, as a character, is too flat and unexpressive. She’s a skeptic and a complainer. In short, she’s a problem child. But that’s the whole point! And it’s what I have always loved about her. Meg is a grouch but she saves the day anyway. Pretty much every other story insists that heroes be nice, damn near to the point of  sainthood. In some sense, you have to be the right kind of person who deserves to have a magical adventure. You can be an outcast, but you must always turn the other cheek (and never throw a basketball in someone’s face). If you’re awkward, it’s all in your head because actually you’re beautiful. I reject that. Sometimes you really are awkward and rude and ungrateful. But being imperfect doesn’t mean you’re undeserving of anything good.

In both the book and the movie, I appreciated that Meg was regular and had an attitude problem and hair that didn’t do what she wanted. I loved that even though she missed her father dearly, and knows she should be above high school drama, it still bothers her that she has no friends. She is a real person, and in the end she succeeds by embracing her flaws, not by becoming someone else. That’s a powerful message for kids everywhere, at any time.

If you haven’t gotten in on the goodness that is A Wrinkle In Time, what are you waiting for? Get on it!

 

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