07 December 2009

Review: Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle

Vicky Austin is at the awful, awkward age of twelve: no longer a kid but certainly not an adult. She is a happy child with a lovely nuturing mother, caring doctor father, smart older brother, pretty younger sister, and sweet younger brother. Although the siblings sometimes fight and get into trouble, they truly love and respect each other.

The day a close family friend dies in a plane crash, along with his copilot, the Austins' world is turned upside down, and not just from sorrow. Ten-year-old Maggy Hamilton, the orphaned daughter of the copilot, has nowhere to live, so Vicky's parents take her in. Vicky knows that she should feel sorry for Maggy, but Maggy doesn't make it easy. She is, quite frankly, a spoiled brat who demands attention and special favors. Vicky isn't sure her family or their house will survive.

Meet the Austins is the first in the Austin Family Chronicles by Madeleine L'Engle. The story is told through the eyes of Vicky, and L'Engle nicely captures the mood and voice of a preteen girl. The Austins are easy to envision, and Maggy is delightfully horrid.

Unfortunately, the book didn't really click with me. Perhaps this middle reader book was just too young for my tastes or perhaps I found the unflappable Austin parents a little too easygoing. It was as if the novel were just out of reach—I almost loved Vicky, I almost wanted to be an Austin, but not really.

If had read Meet the Austins in the 1960s, when I was young, I might have had a different reaction. I think I would have liked Vicky and her family more. But from my grownup, twenty-first-century perspective, the book was a bit too sappy. On the other hand, this story might appeal to youngsters and parents who like a feel-good look into family life.

Madeleine L'Engle died in 2007, but there is website devoted to her work.

Meet the Austins at Powell's
Meet the Austins at Amazon
These 3 links lead to an affiliate program.

Published by Square Fish, 2008 (originally 1960)
ISBN-13: 9780312379315
Challenges: Shelf Discovery, 100+
YTD: 91
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B−


Steph 12/7/09, 10:16 AM  

I loved The Wrinkle and Time and others in that series when I was a girl, and I've always been curious about this novel. I appreciate your honestly sharing your reactions.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 12/7/09, 10:31 AM  

I had a hard time getting into Madeleine L'engle books when I was younger. I never manage to read any of them. I might try A Wrinkle in Time at some point

Margot 12/7/09, 11:00 AM  

Sorry it didn't quite click with you. I haven't read this one but I want to. I like the other books I've read by the author.

Jen - devourer of books 12/7/09, 11:13 AM  

Hmm. I hope I don't feel the same way about "The Arm of the Starfish!" I wonder if her books are some you need to read while young to appreciate.

Meghan 12/7/09, 11:44 AM  

I never read Meet the Austins and I always wanted to. I think it was A Ring of Endless Light that I read which featured Vicky Austin. I wonder how my reaction to it as an adult would be, considering you didn't click with it.

Sandy Nawrot 12/7/09, 12:30 PM  

I think you pretty much summed up my attitude towards A Wrinkle in Time, which I just finished and didn't like much. Maybe earlier in my life, maybe in a different frame of mind, maybe, maybe, maybe. I love some middle school books, so I don't think it is that. Maybe just her writing style, I don't know.

Nan 12/7/09, 1:56 PM  

Beth, my favorite Austin book (and my favorite L'Engle book) is a Christmas one called The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas. It is definitely a 'feel good' book, but I love the descriptive writing and the family life. I wrote a little about it one year:


Julie P. 12/7/09, 2:19 PM  

Even though this one just didn't click for you, I still am interested in reading it! Thanks for sharing!

bermudaonion 12/7/09, 3:03 PM  

Too bad it didn't work. It's not on my list for the Shelf Discovery challenge, so I probably won't be reading it.

Anonymous,  12/7/09, 3:51 PM  

I saw the title and thought it was one of those new Jane Austin books. Then I did a double take and noticed the author. D'oh.

Anonymous,  12/7/09, 4:09 PM  

Maybe L'Engle does work for adults. I'm going to have to try one again. I used to love them.

Belle 12/7/09, 4:15 PM  

This was one of my favorite series growing up, but I've always liked the later novels in the series better - they have more than a hint of mystery, and a bit of a magical element that also hints at the fight between good and evil.

Veens 12/7/09, 7:52 PM  

Well i m sure i would not want to read this one.

Alice 12/8/09, 4:07 AM  

I have been postponing the reading of A WRINKLE IN TIME and looks like perhaps my subconscious was right...

Unknown 12/8/09, 8:29 AM  

Like many, I have re-read some of L'Engle's books as an adult and found them somehow less, although I loved her writing when I was a kid. I don't think it's a bad thing that she was able to connect so specifically to kids. The exception, though, is A Ring of Endless Light, which I still love and which I can re-read -- it is indeed a Vicky Austin book, taking place when she's sixteen. But again, I read it first when I was Vicky's age, so I wonder if the reason I still love it so is nostalgia? Hard to say.

Jenners 12/8/09, 3:21 PM  

I do think that is the problem with revisiting the books you loved as child ... we now read them with grown-up eyes and that can ruin the magic. That is why I don't revisit some of my favorite books from childhood ... I'm afraid I'll ruin my memories of them!

Lisa 12/8/09, 3:31 PM  

I wondered if these were as good as the other L'Engle books. Perhaps I'll just re-read The Wrinkle In Time!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 12/8/09, 5:19 PM  

I didn't read this as a kid, so I don't have a point of comparison (admission: I have yet to read ANY L'Engle!). I agree with your point that our 'stage of life' when first reading a book will, of course, impact how we interpret/connect with it.

schatzi 12/9/09, 3:24 AM  

I first read this in October for the Read-a-Thon, and I really connected with it emotionally. The way L'Engle writes about grief and pain and how Vicky feels with them stuck a chord with me that I wasn't expecting.

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