I’m teaching a new class this year – did I mention that I teach high school English Language Learners? – and I did about half the reading for this class over the course of Labor Day weekend. (The students return to school tomorrow.) I found myself in the fortunate position of being able to, more or less, design my own class and choose the books the class would read. After this weekend refresher on these books, I’m convinced a did a pretty good job choosing them.
I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 10 years old. Other than liking it now, the only thing I really remember about the story was the crazy lady (Mrs Whatsit, as it turns out) demonstrating how they move through time and space (tesser) with an ant and a wrinkle in her skirt. Turns out the book is much better at 26 than it was at 10.
Full of allusions to The Tempest, it’s the story of Meg, who accidentally embarks on an intergalactic mission with her baby brother and an acquaintance from school, aided by three… women? Along the way, Meg finds her long-lost scientist father, battles an evil universe-wide threat to civilization everywhere, and has to get philosophical in an attempt to save her brother from the clutches of IT. As soon as I finished the book, I dropped everything, hit Amazon, and ordered the box set of five.
Next and strategically placed on my list of required reading was When You Reach Me. Turns out this is the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. I don’t even remember how I happened upon it, I had never read it before, I only knew that it borrowed heavily from A Wrinkle in Time… which is not even actually true. It’s more like the book is one big allusion to A Wrinkle in Time, and SO effectively executed. I don’t believe you would have had to have read AWiT to appreciate this book, but I can’t imagine it having the same impact otherwise.
This story is an eerie mystery up to the end. Miranda (The Tempest? Hello?) – in the midst of personal relationship struggles that affect her mother, her stepfather-to-be-… maybe, her ex-best friend, her current sort-of friend, a snobby girl she hates, a cute guy she works with, a crazy homeless man, a racist boss, and a school thug – begins finding notes addressed to her, hidden in unlikely places. The notes beg her to tell a story she doesn’t know yet and give it to she doesn’t know who, because the sender is trying to save the life of Miranda’s friend. But who? And how? And what does telling a story have to do with this? The ending is profound and unshakeable. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to keep it together and not ruin the ending for my students!
Just this morning I finished reading The Willoughbys by the queen of YA literature herself, Lois Lowry. This book was deeply satisfying in a completely different way. A spoof of children’s literature, the story centers around the Willoughby family: Tim, who is the bossy eldest, Barnaby A and B who are twins and cannot be told apart even by family and must share a sweater, and Jane who doesn’t count for much because she’s a girl. Their parents don’t care much for them, but it’s okay because they don’t care much for their parents, either. They would be better off as orphans, like in “old-fashioned” children’s stories, so they come up with a plan to get rid of their parents just as their parents have come up with a plan to get rid of them. The story comes complete with a baby left on a doorstep, a long out-of-work chocolate manufacturer, a maid who knows just what to do, and the Swiss Alps.
The book is absolutely hysterical. I would imagine it’s a nice read for readers of this level, but I can’t help but believe that Lowry was addressing a more mature audience with this book. Frequent and explained allusions to Little Women, Heidi, Mary Poppins, James and the Giant Peach, and many, many other children’s/YA books provide lots of laughs. Children’s literature doesn’t get much more “postmodern” than this.