Books Your Kid Should Read

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges

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Meet the Austins

18 August 2008

Meet the Austins
by Madeleine L'Engle

If I had to pick the one author who was most important to my teenage years, it would have to be Madeleine L'Engle. Reading her books always made me feel less awkward, less nerdy, less of a weirdo for having an artistic, academic family or being interested in big questions about life and death, love and morality. L'Engle reassured me that I wasn't the only one out there like myself, and that the teen years were just a brief episode in my life story. L'Engle's time trilogy books (starting with A Wrinkle in Time) are better known - and they're wonderful, too - but her books about the Austin family (there are four more novels after this one) have their own homey appeal. Daughter Vicky, who's 12 years old in Meet the Austins, is a sympathetic narrator of sibling squabbles, family crises, and her own rocky road through early adolescence. L'Engle has a true ear for dialogue and personality, and the Austin family manages to be extraordinary and endearing without ever being cloying or precious. I first read the book in the early 1980s, some twenty years after its original publication, and didn't find it one bit out of date. I suspect the same could be said for today's readers: sure, you might have to explain what a "phonograph" is, or why none of the kids have cell phones, but the situations and relationships are as timely now as they've ever been.