I had a list of writers I wanted to meet one day when I was a kid. The list included C. S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, and several various writers of Star Wars novels. I was devastated when I learned via the encyclopedia that quite a few of them were deceased. However, one living writer (at the time) on that list was a lady by the name of Madeleine L’Engle.
I started reading her books, like most probably do, with A Wrinkle in Time. I think I was around ten or eleven when I first read it. The foreign languages and literary references and science flew over my head at that age, but not the character of Meg. For once, a writer had written a character that I saw myself in, a character that I could be. Like Meg, I was browned haired, had glasses and braces and a temper, was the oldest girl in the family, and felt like an utter monster most days. And even though she was all those things that so many people criticized her for at school and the like, Meg got to save her father and little brother. She got to be the heroine. She got to be special.
Needless to say, I ate up the rest of the quartet over my adolescence and ventured into L’Engle’s many other books, including the ones about Vicky, another heroine I related to easily, and the Austins. The books made me wish for the amazing families portrayed in them. The books also likely led to my liking of redheaded boys and distrust of ones named Zach. But most importantly, I think, they showed me girls who did not see themselves as anything special, but who were so, simply by being themselves. These were girls that I could aspire to be like because they were flawed and real like me. In some ways, I think believing I was one like them, that I could be a kind of undercover heroine, got me through middle school and a portion of high school.
There are not many books I own that I consider comfort reads, but A Wrinkle in Time is one of them. As I grew up, I got the references. I understood the enormous themes and the darkness that Meg faced in that first book, the darkness that had seemed at eleven no more than another “big bad.” That book was with me in my dark times. It was the book I turned to read at fourteen when my cat, the friend who had always been there for me for ten years, died and the night seemed to be filled with demons. I read it when I felt alone and friendless in the hallways of a new school. And it comforted me. It told me, as worthless as I felt, there were still people who would find me beautiful and brave. It told me I was not alone.
I never did get to meet Madeleine L’Engle. I never met Ms Alcott or Mr Lewis either. But through the books of Madeleine L’Engle, I felt like I did meet her. You can’t write about so many secretly heroic girls and not be one yourself, after all.