Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

April 24, 2015 2015, classics, readalong, Wendy 35

a ring of endless light

A Ring of Endless Light is a book not as many readers seem to be familiar with, even though the author is so well known for A Wrinkle in Time. We’re trying to help change that! This book is realistic fiction with an element of science fiction, and even if you weren’t able to read along with us this month, we hope that the discussion below encourages you to check it out in the future. As always, there will be some spoilers, however.

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Wendy: I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager, but it’s been years since I read it. To this day, I still think of “resilient pewter” whenever I see a dolphin! And it’s also why I was veering between marine biology and paleontology for a long time. (Spoiler alert: I went into neither. Alas.)

Kim: I had never read it before! A Wrinkle In Time is the only other L’Engle book I’ve read, and that only last year. Thankfully I enjoyed this one much more than Wrinkle. But I fully admit that probably everything I liked about this book was Adam Eddington. Also, the dolphins were cute. Wendy, why are we not paleontologists? I wanted to be one because of Jurassic Park. It’s not too late for us!!!

Layla: I was a huge Madeleine L’Engle fan as a young adult, so I’ve read this book many a time before. (Although this was not my favorite Vicky Austin story! My fave was Troubling a Star, which is the one where she ends up in Antarctica on, like, an ice floe. FOR REASONS.) I haven’t picked up A Ring of Endless Light in at least ten years, though, and it was interesting to re-read it as someone who isn’t 15-going-on-16 anymore.

Wendy: I also love the first book about the Austins, though it’s a much simpler, more pleasantly ordinary type of book. I don’t remember the others at all, but your description of TAS makes me want to read it!

Layla: Weirdly, I don’t remember Meet the Austins at all. I have much more vivid memories of the ones where crazy shit went down. (Troubling a Star and The Young Unicorns, which, um, just go look at the Wikipedia entry for that one, you guys. There are lasers and corrupt bishops and a gang called the Alphabats.) As a teenager, I was really focused on Vicky’s love interests (particularly Adam); as an adult, the stuff around death and dying spoke to me more.

Kim:  I have read that Wikipedia entry (thanks, Layla!) and I would just like to say I would love to be a member of the Alphabats. Please is it my only wish in life.

Wendy: Adam Eddington was my very first book boyfriend, I think. How could you resist a boy who takes you to swim with dolphins and sits and talks with you by moonlight about philosophy and science and poetry and has grey eyes that look lit from within? I don’t know that there has ever been another fictional guy (and few real ones) who listens so very intently to a girl, and does so without judgment. And with plenty of openness and matter-of-fact encouragement.

Layla: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s true of lots of characters in this book. I was struck by her conversations with John, Rob, Suzy, and her grandfather as well – I felt like many of the conversations modeled this sort of encouragement and active listening.

Wendy: Very true. I enjoyed this part of the book, because my relationship with my mother and my friends in high school was very much like this.

Layla: Although Adam is swoon-worthy, I still kinda think he is too old for Vicky.

Wendy: He is. But he knows that, which is why things don’t go very far in this book–I have a lot of respect for him for that. She’s an old soul, but still very young and inexperienced. I do wonder why L’Engle made her protagonist so young, though–Vicky could’ve been 18 and the book wouldn’t have been different at all, except for the ick factor.

a ring of endless lightLayla: Yes! Vicky could have easily been older and I would have been a lot happier. (I suspect it’s precisely because she does want Vicky in between childhood and adulthood for psychic dolphin reasons.) As a fifteen year-old, it didn’t bug me at all, but as an adult, I’m less into it. It’s not so much the age gap (four years) as it is where she’s at in her life. Vicky is still trying to figure herself out, where Adam knows where he’s going to be for the next ten years (it’s grad school. He’s going to be in grad school forever. I’m not crying, you’re crying).

Kim: Adam was my favorite character in the entire book (duh!). I am sad because the age difference kept me from fully realizing the swoon but their connection was palpable and I loved that it flowed through them both beyond words. 

Wendy: I am calling this The Summer of Death. Because while I remember this being a book very much about death and dying, it was mostly related to Vicky’s grandfather and Commander Rodney, and the little dolphin pup. It captures the somber, despairing feelings as well as the joyous, tearful, guilty ones you experience during these times. My father was ill most of my life, and passed away right after college, so much of this felt very familiar. Come to think of it, the worst parts of his illness were around the time that I first read this.

As an adult, I’m struck by how very heavy this book is in its content and its themes, however–perhaps too much so, in parts. Because while I love the fact that this book takes its time to ruminate on these serious subjects, I think there might be a few too many deaths and serious injuries thrown into this mix. (Is that fair, though, when this didn’t bother me as a teenager?)  We should tally them up, hah. I just know by the end, after the major deaths/illnesses we’ve already talked about along with Zachary’s death wish, having Binnie and Jeb to also contend with, it felt like a lot for the time span of a couple of months. MAYBE THE AUSTINS ARE CAUSING ALL THIS.

Layla: Ok. The final countdown. Commander Rodney, Grandfather, Zachary’s mom (in the background), Zachary, dolphin pup, Jeb’s dead family (in the background), Adam’s friend Josiah (in the background), Jeb, Binnie … am I missing anyone? Also those baby swallows were constantly in peril! Anyway, that’s nine people and one dolphin pup. The shadow of death is over everything. EVERYTHING. It’s like that moment in Grey’s Anatomy when Cristina Yang recounts all of the terrible things that have happened to them at Seattle Grace, and it’s like, huh, maybe the hospital is haunted or something. (To be honest, if my memory of the other Austin books serve, that family is *constantly* struggling to stay out of danger. Their year in NY precedes this book, and let me tell you, they do not emerge unscathed.)

On the death and dying front, I was really moved by Suzy’s conversation with Vicky over their grandfather’s illness. To me, that perfectly captured the sometimes contentious relationship between siblings, as well as how heartbreaking it is to deal with the illness of a loved one (i.e., Suzy feels like she can’t be around, even though she loves her grandfather, and is dealing with so much guilt – especially because she wants to be a doctor someday).

Kim: Yes, definitely by the end (and they all seem to really just pile on up there at the end) all of the death and grief was just really overbearing for me too.  I think the grief of just one ailing family member is more than enough grief for one book. When I was 16 my grandmother had a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side and bedridden for the final few short years of her life. It was a difficult time for my family, as you can imagine, and incredibly difficult for me to deal with as a teenager. I have long been looking for a YA book that deals with the illness and loss of an elderly loved one so I was so glad to see that here. It didn’t have quite the emotional or philosophical impact as I would’ve liked but I do agree with you, Layla. I was really affected by Suzy’s speech too. I remember having all of those feelings, especially the guilt and confliction, of not always being able to, or even wanting to be there. It’s hard stuff. This would have been a great book for me to read as a teen.

Wendy: Did you guys catch the reference to Calvin O’Keefe? I was thrilled by that, even though I vaguely remembered that L’Engle had connected the Austins to the O’Keefes. Adam worked with Professor O’Keefe in The Arm of the Starfish, which is a book I remember not liking as much–L’Engle tries her hand with a thriller, and it wasn’t as appealing to me as the everyday warmth of the Austin stories. How wonderful is Vicky’s family, by the way? Particularly these parents who read Shakespeare after dinner and sing, and this grandfather who turns a barn into a house and builds bookshelves in them? We don’t spend much time with them, and yet every character in the book had their own lives that you wonder about. Her grandfather was especially dear, with his “luminous” smile and gentle wisdom–I felt a wonderful glow whenever he was near. The moments when he starts hemorrhaging and losing his memory are genuinely scary and sad.

Layla: I did catch that! I was amused that L’Engle puts him side by side with Einstein, though. (All the great scientists who come to know things in a flash! That, by the way, always made me hopeful that someday I would know things like that. Intuitively, instantly, without looking for it.) Anyway, apparently Zachary Gray and Adam Eddington exist in books in both universes? Because Adam knows O’Keefe through his scientific work or something, and I think Zachary tries to put the moves on O’Keefe’s daughter. Again, haven’t read the rest of the series in years, so this all may be wrong, but I tried to back it up with (wikipedia) research. It’s funny that we remember the Austin books so differently – but this is probably why I can’t remember Meet the Austins at all but have fond memories of the ones that are more crazysauce thrillers. ;)

I liked the family’s habit of reading aloud (Joseph Fielding and Shakespeare! awesome), as well as her grandfather’s love of early modern poetry. But that’s my area of study, so I got a tiny kick of seeing them talk about Browne and Donne and Vaughan. I will say that initially I thought her family was being way too hard on Zachary (in particular, their horror over his mother’s having been cryogenically frozen). Although he is eventually revealed to be a total creeper, I really wanted them to extend their warmth and hospitality to him in ways they never did. I mean, come on, his mom has just died, you guys! And they’re like, “Well, well, here’s that bad penny Zachary again.”

Wendy: I was surprised they did not make more of an effort with him too, actually. I suppose you’re to infer that they saw something in him instinctively that made them wary, and they’re later proved right? But Vicky saw something in him too, that perhaps no one else did.

Kim: Oh I had very, very little patience or tolerance for Zachary. I mean, I understood his inner pain and that there is more going on with him than just being some random rich douchebag. I actually really admire Vicky a lot for having so much more patience and understanding for this character than I did. Though sometimes I just wanted to ask her whyyyyy she keeps getting in a car with that guy. He repeatedly tries to run people over! Stop that. Also, I hated how aggressive he was with her sexually, but I adored how level headed and proficiently Vicky was able to stand her ground and say no.

Layla: One moment I loved, though, was when Vicky’s grandfather has that conversation about what should and should not be her burden in her dealings with Zachary, i.e., that just because someone asks you to save them and makes you responsible for their welfare, does not mean that you actually are. I thought this was wonderful and wish I’d taken this to heart more as a teen. Good lesson, grandfather!

Wendy: Yes, and I liked how that loops back at the end, when he asks something of her (in a moment when he was not himself) that could not be her responsibility. I’m curious how you both responded to the religious undercurrent in this book. L’Engle, of course, often explored Christian themes and beliefs in her work, and they are strongly present in this one. As a rather neutral party in these types of discussions, I find her viewpoint one that mostly does not seem judgmental or exclusionary, but rather welcoming and patient. And what’s very appealing to me is the questioning nature of the philosophical and scientific discussions in tandem with that.

Kim: Well, as typical for me, I found the Christian themes too much for my tastes. I liked the philosophical and scientific discussions much better (and she writes them with much poetry!), but there wasn’t really anything new to add to either of those topics in this book for me. I liked this story best when it was about character work and the connection between people.

Layla: I still found the book to be preachy in places (and, full disclosure, I do have a horse in this race as a person of faith).

Wendy: Understandable–it was borderline in parts for me, too. There’s definitely a lot of it, and I’m sure these discussions can be difficult to take depending on your own beliefs.
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Layla: I did like the articulation of a faith that is at least in theory open to not knowing (in an exploratory sense) rather than certainty. There’s that moment, for example, where Vicky’s grandfather tells Leo that if he thinks he understands God, it isn’t God. In practice in the book, though, I really wanted there to be some middle ground; it felt to me as if everyone is either on the path to figuring out their relationship to God or a total nihilist (because being a nihilist means that of course you make risky, terrible decisions in planes and deep-freeze your mom and try to get 15 year-olds drunk). I also hope to never be the kind of person who quotes St. Augustine to teenagers who are still trying to figure their shit out, too, though, btw. :) And as for other types of preachiness, Mrs. Austin’s dismissal of Suzy’s insistence that the word “mankind” is problematic really irked me. It’s not “inverse sexism” for Suzy to question whether or not “mankind” presumes male-ness as a default state.

Wendy: Well, the thing is–I don’t think all books need to present a middle ground. These are the author’s beliefs, and that’s what she chose to write about, so while I don’t necessarily agree with all points of her faith and philosophy, I also don’t expect her to necessarily provide counterbalance within this context. It didn’t cross over into hammering in for me the way certain other YA books have, though as you like to say, everyone’s mileage varies on topics like these. And I did like Mrs. Austin’s charge of inverse sexism when Suzy began questioning her mother’s choices to stay home and raise her family, because that I still see a lot of that sort of thing. But yes, I understand the annoyance over the “mankind” point, as well as the quoting. We all have been with family members or acquaintances. who have done this sort of thing.

Layla: Yeah. I guess I just feel like the Austins’ articulation of their faith makes it seem like it’s something that’s inclusive and open to folks figuring out their faith (or total lack thereof) in their own good time. It’s not that L’Engle needs to present an alternative viewpoint, but I do wish that, like, the only character who explicitly isn’t a believer wasn’t also the worst human being in the book. Anyhow! Let’s talk about Vicky’s love connections …

Wendy: You’re right, Zachary’s Immoralists were presented in a very unattractive and loony-bin way; quite judgmental, in fact. But oh, the love rectangle. Which isn’t really a true rectangle, but there are indeed three boys, which is of course very messy. I obviously think the sun rises and sets on Adam Eddington. Caress my hair and cross time and space when I need you pleeeeease.

Layla: Oh man, this also had me as an adolescent. Pet my hair while we sit on the beach and take me dolphin-riding and I am yours forever. Things I liked: that Vicky is able to set boundaries with all of her suitors and they are pretty much respected. That is awesome. So, for example, that she’s able to hang out with Leo and not feel like she owes him anything (because she doesn’t) just because he likes her.

Wendy: I think Leo’s attraction to Vicky was unnecessarily drawn out. I understand having a bit of history there, perhaps, but I don’t think his relationship to her contributed significantly to the story or to her personal growth, so why are we dealing with his sloppy kisses? Zachary is clearly a hot mess, though I was surprised to find that as an adult, I felt more sympathetic to him than I did as a teenager. I mean, I was annoyed and frustrated with him, but I also wondered more about his background and what was driving him to be so self-destructive. (She also puts up with him for too long, but I also understand the appeal of being with someone where you have all these new experiences. And when it counted, she did right.) I think he is turned into a rather typical jerk in the end, which was disappointing–I wonder if he shows up again in later Austin books? But I suppose we don’t always know the histories and motivations of all the people who come into our lives.

Layla: So, as I indicated earlier, Zachary does show up in later books and tries to date Polly, Calvin and Meg’s daughter. I think he’s very much the same there – reckless, irresponsible, death-wish-y. And no one likes him. I don’t know that he shows up in another Austin novel, though, since the next one in line – Troubling a Star – is more about Vicky and Adam (for all you Vicky / Adam shippers out there, there are letters and penguins and ice floes). My feelings about Zachary are complicated. I thought he was the worst as a teen, but I do have more sympathy towards him now: he’s obviously in a lot of pain and seems to get very little emotional support from his family and friends. That said, it’s screwy that he’s trying to make a fifteen year-old responsible for helping him deal with his feels. And, in addition to this, he’s 20 and tries to get Vicky to drink and have sex with him. No no no no. I think Vicky deals well with him, though – far better than I would’ve as a fifteen year-old.

Wendy: Agreed. Whatever was going on in his background, he really was awful. NO MEANS NO, ZACHARY. Vicky definitely dealt with it better than most teenagers could have.

Also–while I think the romantic Leo part should’ve been nixed, I didn’t really go nuts over Vicky “juggling” her suitors. Unlike the way a lot of romantic entanglements are portrayed, her interactions with these guys are based on in-depth conversations and activities, so that they were almost friend-like outings, if that makes sense? There’s definitely romantic interest and physical attraction on her part,  but there’s such a focus on character and intellectual interest that it didn’t feel like the typical shallow, groan-worthy machinations.

Layla: Yeah! I also like that it’s totally cool that Vicky is maybe seeing three guys at once (and that, sometimes, Leo gets to come on her dates with Zachary … awkweird). And that her relationships with all of them go beyond thinking about their dreamy grey eyes (differently dreamy), but seem to be genuinely about figuring out how compatible they are as friends / possible partners.

Wendy: Yes! While I am not normally a fan of too much bouncing back and forth between romantic interests, I think as it’s portrayed here, it’s actually very healthy that she is exploring her options and what she wants out of a relationship, as well as not becoming too committed. The undying “meant to be” love that we often see in YA books now is sometimes problematic, actually–not many of us end up with the person we crushed on in high school, and often those all-consuming love stories also exclude thoughts of anything else, like education and family and self-growth. I like the balance here.

a ring of endless lightLayla: We still haven’t really gotten into my favorite relationship in this book: psychic dolphin times!


Layla: What do we want? Psychic dolphin times. When do we want it? NOW. Oh man, this was all I wanted from life when I first read A Ring of Endless Light. I grew up in South Florida and was at the beach constantly, so it seemed like this dream could become a reality for me. Alas, it never did. I did have a manatee encounter but it was not nearly as magical. (No rides, no psychic connection, and I thought it was a shark so I ran out of the water screaming). As an adult reader, though, Vicky’s ability to mind-meld with dolphins and Adam drags this book into the realm of science-fiction for me. But I still loved reading about Vicky’s dolphin adventures – still totally the highlight of this book for me. Although I imagine the dolphins’ version of time as basically Lisa Frank’s rendition of dolphins. (Trippy colors! Bright lights! Dolphins leaping in tandem! THIS IS KAIROS.)

Wendy: I love manatees! I’m so jealous of your shrieking encounter. I also love the dolphin telepathy and playful dolphin spankings and dazzling dolphin rides, I still daydream fondly whenever I see one. Which here in California, is quite often when you’re at the beach, I didn’t think that was a real thing. The dolphins definitely made this book into something that wasn’t realistic fiction–I rather like that the lines are blurred in L’Engle’s books. It makes the magic or science fiction seem more real, and she integrates them well.

Layla: My sister and I were swimming in the ocean, talking about how our uncle was bitten by a shark (he was), and then all of the sudden, something brushed our legs and we saw a gray shape in the water. We screamed and ran for shore – from which safe distance, we saw that it was a manatee.

Wendy: This amuses me to no end, although I have great sympathy for the little Aldousany girls–and I hope your uncle was okay! We know some serious shark stories, too. I love the dolphiny times in this book so much, though–the wordless communication, this sense of perfect understanding between girl and beast, was so lovely and relatable. I especially loved the scene when Njord and Norbetta try to teach her about non-linear time. Pure magic.

Kim: I would just like to add that in Animorphs Book 4 (The Message) that Cassie morphs a dolphin and has a super great “communing with dolphins and whales scene” that was clearly written as a tribute to the scene where Norberta shows Vicky nonlinear time/space/the universe/everything. Do you think dolphins could show us how to bend space-time? Can they show us time travel?? Vicky doesn’t know her true worth!

Layla: Does anyone remember the Disney Channel Original Movie version of this? Mischa Barton as Vicky! Jared Padalecki as Zachary! and Ryan Merriman as Adam! And there were dolphins. I don’t remember much else about it except thinking it was not the greatest adaptation of the book; as I recall, the focus was on the love triangle and not as much about the death and dying.

Wendy: I never saw that, though I think it was gifted to me as a DVD? I was afraid to.

Kim: I do not recall that glorious majesty, but I do fondly recall The Thirteenth Year about a boy mermaid! It was great. Two thumbs up.

Final Ratings?

Wendy: This surprises the hell out of me, but this is one of the few cases where I’m downgrading my original rating slightly. I’ll always have a special spot for this book and love it intensely for its philosophy, its summer island setting, its joyous frolicking with dolphins, its loving and realistic depiction of death and dying, as well as for PERFECT ADAM EDDINGTON, but I’m taking off half a point for the untidy third love interest as well as the over-abundance of death and injury. Both of the latter elements are unnecessary, as the themes and story would have been just a strong and less cluttered without them. So, 4.5 stars. I know, sooooo harsh. It’s probably realistically a 4 in terms of writing execution, but I also have to factor in the desperate love that teenage Wendy felt for these books during her formative years.

Layla: I’ll say 4 stars. I loved this more as a teenager. I think I might have liked this book slightly more if Vicky had been a senior in high school or a college freshman, to be honest. As it was, I just wanted to lift her up out of the novel so she didn’t have to deal with any more death or any more 20 year-olds putting the moves on her. She’s so very young. And she’s resilient and lovely, but still, what a way to spend your summer vacation. Also, thanks for introducing teens to Vaughan’s poetry, book. Good job.

Kim: 3.5 stars As a teenager I would’ve liked it more, but as an adult I don’t find anything particularly inspiring or interesting in the book’s philosophy and the love interests really weighed the story down for me. The book does have its moments, though! Mostly around Adam being adorable, and some of the philosophical moments are beautifully written. Sadly, I think I just missed out on the L’Engle train as a youth and my blocked off adult brain cannot commune with her books. 

divider vine croppedMay Readalong: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

So here is why Kim voted for this book for our readalong next month….

Kim: My first introduction to survivalist fiction and the reason that I love it still! I can so vividly recall certain exact passages from this book, and I’ve only read it once and then when I was 11. I recently skimmed it a bit when it got returned at the library and I was so relieved to see that I still thrilled and was repulsed at the exact same passages I remembered. There is a lot  of gritty, gruesome, and harrowing stuff in Hatchet and I love the book for not shying away from the more horrifying elements of survival. I cannot wait to read it with everyone!

View Spoiler »

hatchet gary paulsenTitle: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Discussion Date: Friday, May 29th
Hashtag: #tmgreadalong

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present — and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair — it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.

For twenty years Gary Paulsen’s award-winning contemporary classic has been the survival story with which all others are compared. This new edition, with a reading group guide, will introduce a new generation of readers to this page-turning, heart-stopping adventure.

It’s a short book, so it should take us no time at all to do this one! The paperback is just $6 and the Kindle edition is just a dollar more, but this title is a Newbery Honor book and therefore likely readily available in libraries.

If you’d like to get a head start on June’s book, we’ll be reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in honor of the long-lost sequel releasing this summer! And if you really want to plan ahead, here is a visual clue to July’s book.


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Have you read A Ring of Endless Light or any of the other Austin Chronicles? Were you as pleased with or as bothered by the same elements we were?

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35 Responses to “Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light”

  1. Kristi

    (Obviously I’m late to this discussion, but I just finished re-reading the book and ran across this site while looking for blogs about the book!)

    You keep mentioning the problematic age difference between Vicky and Adam but Vicky is 15 and Adam is 17 which doesn’t seem too bad to me. The book says that the events of ‘The Arm of the Starfish’ happened the summer before ‘A Ring of Endless Light’. Adam is 16 in ‘Starfish’ so he must be 17 in this book. Adam is basically a child genius and started college at 16.
    The age difference between Vicky and Zachary is definitely horrifying. I don’t understand how her parents are ok with their relationship, especially when they already had such a low opinion of him.
    I remember this book had a profound impact on me as a 10 year old, but reading it as a 24 year old was a totally different experience and I think it has impacted me profoundly again. Also, I’m watching the movie now, great for reminiscing but such a horrible adaptation!

  2. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    And after finishing last night reading this one at work (holy hell, was that a bad choice) I’m back and ready to talk about the book more! If you’re wonderring why it was a bad choice for me to read this one at work? Well, I was feeling pretty down with all the death and with Vicky’s reaction and all did I mention of the death and accidents? A real bummer to go and try to smile at my patients while I wake them at 6 am for meds and blood tests.

    Well, I give this one 4 stars, even if I have some serious issues with some parts of the book, but Vicky being a rather wonderful almost 16 year old girl, that felt realistic and rather sensible even being a dreamer and poet and one that didn’t feel like she had to do or give in or feel guilty-ed (not a word, I know, forgive me, I slept lil today!) into doing what any of the boys would want her to do, from Zachary pushing her (for goodness sake, HE’S BLOODY 20!?!), to Leo wanting to be more than she wanted and Vicky being very clear that she just wanted to be friends, and Adam… Adam pushing her away and also needing her and Vicky being mature enough to know she what she wanted but also respecting the boundaries as long as she was treated as someone mature enough to talk to and not a child to be condescending. I was very glad to see that Vicky was more into thinking than simply swooning…

    But what really made me give this book the 4 stars was the dolphins! All the dolphin interactions, the swimming, the mind-melding/telepathy with them, Norberta, Basil, baby dolphin… and everything about them really! I adore every interaction, every way in which dolphins are shown as interesting and intelligent creatures with perhaps a different intelligence & understanding from ours. I just couldn’t help but hum “So long and thanks for all the fish” sometimes in my head, and my Hitchhikers fangirl was squaling a bit at all the dolphin-ness. I need to go swimming with dolphins somehow, it’s always been on the bucket list, but boy have I been reminded of HOW MUCH I WANT TO!!

    The dolphins also bring me to another favourite part of the book, because I loved how characters discuss and talk about why’s, how’s and science and philosophy and how to figure out your questions about life, the universe and everything (sorry, had to do it, again) and how to figure out yourself. Vicky’s demands of being treated like mature enough would have been rather more annoying if her main demand was caused because she wanted to be treated as someone that can talk about complex issues and will bother to learn and understand and be open enough to new ideas, not just as “someone old enough to kiss” which unfortunately is more the focus on more recent YA’s.

    I really liked the Austins, even if I felt some of the Bible talk and quoting and discussions about God felt a lil preachy at times for me, but never too much to make me want to stop reading, only a bit of frowning now and then. And they were what I call the good kind of Christians, if you allow me to use that qualifier. They are kind, inclusive, eager to talk and learn and to help people and not think they are better than others or have all the answers. A bit preachy or not, they’re a family I probably wouldn’t mind spending time with, if I can duck having St Agustin quoted at me! ;)

    Going back to the three boys… if this would have been another book I would have totally said “hell no!” but it was done so very well! More in a way of exploring friendships and attraction and relationships, and not simple indecision back and forth of declarations of love. Vicky is clear with them all and the boys are more or less clear too. And quite frankly, the only one actively trying to woo her and taking her on dates is Zachary, since Leo and her seem to be hanging out as friends mostly, even if he tries to push the boundaries and Vicky is clear and upfront with him all the time. And Adam… well, he’s the one with the most genuine connection and that spend more time with Vicky talking and interacting with the least “date” scenario, and he ends up being the best option, even with the age difference. I was shocked and rather appalled when Zachary was revealed to be 20!! O_o I felt bad about Zachary but I was bothered that he was made such a “broken bad boy” cliché. And that the non-Christian option was represented so cartoony, and with the most shallow characters, like Zachary and his dad.

    And last but clearly not least given the importance and how overwhelmingly present the theme was all over the book: death. It made me wonder if the author had suffered some loss recently when she was writing? Because sometimes it felt like a way for her to go through the stages of grief and how to get yourself together! I feel like the illness and clearly upcoming death of Grandfather and the dolphin baby would have been rather enough, but there’s so much of it! Yes, I know quite well that life can suck like that sometimes, but oh boy! The way Grandfather’s illness progression and treatment and deterioration and how that affects the family as a whole and each one of the differently was done brilliantly, and that would have been more than message enough, I feel. Some of the added deaths felt a bit like kicking us in the gut when we were already down, you know? I am someone used to death surrounding her and it took me a while to kick the gloominess after finishing the book!

    I feel like I need to read the book that comes after this one because Adam, penguins and Antartica seriously sounds like something I’d LOVE TO READ! Do you think it’s a Pili book?
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…An Amber in the Ashes Release Day Blitz!!

  3. Carina Olsen

    I love your discussion posts so so much. <3 You guys are adorable. Thank you all so much for sharing :D I have not heard of this book before. But now I got curious. The cover is pretty gorgeous :D But damn. Then I read more. And lots of male characters, sloppy kisses, and many suitors? Yeah. I'm staying away from this book, lol :D Not for me at all. Sigh. Though I am curious :) Thank you for letting me know about it, though. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Swag Giveaway

    • Kim

      Oh don’t let the suitors keep you away, Carina! Honestly, this book is not about the romance at all. And it’s all very skillfully handled anyway. The other boys are there basically to serve as a lesson in “who you do not want.” Vicky doesn’t really have any romantic attachment to them and it’s not where the emotional conflict of the novel resides. Do you really want to miss out on magically communing dolphins??
      Kim recently posted…An Ember in the Ashes: 5 Great Book-to-Movie Adaptations with Sabaa Tahir

      • Carina Olsen

        It’s just.. I can’t stand things that reminds me of love triangles, lol, and this sounds very much like that. I can’t stand kissing of characters that aren’t the love interest :p Not my thing, sadly :( But AGH. You make the rest sound so awesome! I do adore dolphins. Hmph. I must consider this :)
        Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas

  4. E

    Sorry to be a little late to the party, girls :( Brilliant discussion, though, really thought provoking, thank you.

    It’s taken me a little while to actually process this book. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, I’ll be honest with you. When I read the back, I was pretty disappointed with the selection; it sounded as though it was going to be a very shallow love triangle (square?) type of novel, aimed at mid teens. Why is this a classic? I wondered. Also was disappointed that it was number four in a series – why not set the first one? I wondered whether it was such a classic, that I was assumed to have read the others or something. I’ll admit, I wasn’t originally happy with the selection!

    Well. It was unexpected. I’ve never read anything like it, that’s for sure. It was a very curious mix of seemingly shallow teenage things (boys etc), dolphins, and very, very deep and philosophical thought processes. When I finished, I needed a while to just sit quietly. For an MG read, it is saturated in death. The book seems to be about the line between life and death, and the very many forms of death around us – Vicky’s grandfather, Leo’s father, Jed’s family, the baby dolphin, the swallows, Zachary’s attitude, Binnie. It is SO heavy. I didn’t read this as a teenager, but I imagine teens might find it just too hard.

    I found the characters’ ages in general very difficult. I know Vicky was supposed to be a mature fifteen year old, but it didn’t feel real to me: she was so much older. Her thought processes, beliefs, feelings of responsibility – these are not those of a fifteen year old. Then, the age gap with Adam was creepy; I agree that Vicky should have just been seventeen and it would have made everything so much better! I related to her, but actually on a mostly adult level. Her confidence in her sexual self with the three boys was incredibly impressive.

    More on the romances. They didn’t seem to be all that important to me, actually. There was so much else packed into this novel, that they seemed sort of superfluous. Did anyone else get that? Leo barely got a look in, so why bother including him? We already had a connection to his family through his mother nursing Grandfather. Adam and Vicky’s relationship would have worked better on a platonic level, and Zacahary… well. I didn’t ‘get’ him. (Nor did I like him very much). I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been axed. The level of maturity in all of them just didn’t feel real; having so much independence, going swimming, to posh meals, out in boats, in planes, on bikes. Very different to my own childhood, but that might be circumstantial. Anyway, I think I would have preferred this book without the romances (although Adam is so lovely!), hope no one murders me for saying it!

    So. Dolphins. I liked the idea you brought up that it was sci-fi; that made it sit easier for me. But, apart from the communication, it was purely wonderful! Who can complain about lovely descriptions of beautiful and intelligent creatures in their home environment? Sighs. Very nice. Wish I could swim with dolphins/be a marine biologist/live on an island/live my life again to have these things. Ah well.

    I didn’t find the religious aspect at all preach-y and I’m a devout atheist, usually quite sensitive to that sort of thing. I just loved the Austin family. Reading together: Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets, singing, meals together. What a wonderful family! And I loved Grandfather’s ‘sermon’ (if you want to call it that) about only bearing one’s own crosses. It’s true. Take out the religious connotation and it is universally applicable.

    Still not sure what I make of it as a whole. (Don’t hate me!) The mix of romance, growing up, death, and sci-fi dolphins was so unexpected and strange, and I’m not 100% sure it worked for me. However, a very very thought provoking read. As I said, I couldn’t move after the ending. It was deeply affecting for me, whether I thought it was an overall ‘good’ book or not.
    E recently posted…The Last Ever Mr B’s Reading Year

    • Kim

      Oh you are never late, Ellen! And we are always so happy to have you join us. <3 <3

      I think it's interesting to come to L'Engle's books as an adult without having read them as a teenager. I don't know anyone (seriously!) that read her books as a youth who did not love them. I think I can vaguely recall trying to read WRINKLE when I was around 10 but finding it way too weird/over my head to finish. So it's very strange for me to go into these readalongs not having the familiar/positive associations with her books that so many lucky others do. What I'm trying to say is, I get you and I think I had similar feelings about the book. I'm not really so sure overall what I thought. There were so many parts I enjoyed, and many parts I felt were just silly and unnecessary. But I do think it's an important read and one that I'm glad exists and is there for teenagers to discover. I can easily see myself recommending it to one of my teenagers in the library.

      I do think that it's really interesting that the book is both about a girl who has a (magical?) ability to commune with dolphins and impending death, but also about the comparatively unimportant aspects like dating and sibling rivalry. It's a lot to juggle in a book but I really loved that the more petty aspects of Vicky's life were included. It adds a feel of normalcy and connection to an otherwise occasionally out of this world book (dolphins can show you space-time! Who knew!)

      I hear you on the frustration with Vicky's age. It seems like L'Engle really wanted to have it both ways with a protagonist mature enough to handle all of the very complicated goings on of this novel but also needed to have Vicky still be a "child" because of the dolphin communing angle. (Though I'm now wondering--does this mean Vicky will stop when she grows up? Reminds me a little bit of His Dark Materials there.)

      Like you I was also super hesitant about the love triangle/rectangle aspect of the book going into it, but I actually (weirdly for me) didn't mind it at all. I suppose because the book isn't really about the romance angle at all. I did love how easily she put down both Zachary and Leo when they were forceful with her. I think the three of them were there to show the different types of guy/people one will meet romantically and how to deal with the differing levels of pressure they can put on. Zachary is clearly "the bad one" and his amorous affronts are super aggressive. But there is conflict because Vicky really likes him. At least on a purely physical level. There's Zachary: not a great guy but there's physical attraction, Leo: a pretty decent guy but no attraction, and Adam: a great guy and physical and spiritual attraction. I think the point of Leo is that sometimes there are perfectly nice boys but you just don't have any chemistry with them and that's okay. And they might like you very much but you have no obligation to like them back. A super important lesson/reminder for teen girls and I'm glad it was included in the book. It did get wearying because Vicky has to tell Leo "no" over and over again. But this is also just true to life.

      Loved the dolphin parts! It honestly felt so magical to me and I love books where the line between reality and magic gets blurred. "Is this supposed to be real? Is that actually happening?" Love it! Maybe dolphins really can see space-time and it is only we with our puny human brains that are blind. Anything is possible!

      It is funny how differently people react to the religious aspects of her book. I'm an atheist too, but I find myself shifting impatiently through grandfather's "sermons" and religious quoting. One thing that I think he got very much right and that I loved is when grandfather said the scientist's today are mystics. I've done a fair amount of reading of 20th and 21st century scientists (and mostly in physics/astronomy) and I cannot help but agree. Otherwise, I found the Austin family so corny! Sitting around and singing?? Ha I must have such a cold, stone heart. :p

      I'm so glad you joined us, E! And you liked the book (sort of). I feel the same way. If a book is affecting and thought provoking that, if nothing else, made it worth the read.
      Kim recently posted…An Ember in the Ashes: 5 Great Book-to-Movie Adaptations with Sabaa Tahir

  5. Amber

    I remember in the fifth grade, my teacher read A Wrinkle In Time to the class, I really liked it back then. :) I was excited to find out the same author wrote this book, even though I haven’t’ read it yet.

    This was such a fun discussion to read! Thank you ladies for doing it. :)

    I did see the Disney Channel movie though which I pointed out on Twitter. It does focus more on the romance and dolphins than on death. You’ve also inspired me to now watch the movie online.

    I love how philosophical and science-ish this book is as you mentioned. I like that it also has religious undertones which I really enjoy. I had no idea there was such a big age gap between Vicky and and Zachary, five years is a lot! I’m so glad Vicky’s such a headstrong character in this though. I didn’t know there were other companion books along with it. I’ll have to check those out!
    Amber recently posted…Review: The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod

    • Wendy Darling

      She wrote so many books, Amber, it’s kind of overwhelming! I definitely want to read all the Austins at some point, they all seem so different from one book to the next. And, um, I really want to see what happens next for Adam and Vicky. :D Shhh, don’t tell anyone. I definitely want to watch the film at some point, too.

      I’d be very curious to hear what you think of this after you’ve had a chance to read it–let us know if you happen to remember! Coming from film to book is always an interesting experience, but I’m glad to hear that you’re not turned off by the more serious content and themes in the book. I quite liked that myself, even if I didn’t agree with everything or it made me slightly uncomfortable. It’s also a product of its time, since it was written in the 1960s.

      And yeah, as Layla mentioned (in regards to Adam), it’s not so much the actual number of years, but it’s also where they are in their lives. And Zachary is so much more wise to the ways of the world, and a lot pushier than he is in the film, from what I understand. Still, Vicky handles him very well. She’s so great.

      I’m glad you’re going to give this one a shot sometime! Thanks for stopping by. :)
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

      • Brenda

        It was like each guy had their role to play, “good guy, bad guy and older guy”, some were just to good at it. :) Have a great weekend too!

    • Layla

      Yeah, I am also tempted to rewatch the movie, which I remember watching WHEN IT PREMIERED ON DISNEY (because that is how I rolled) approximately a bajillion years ago. It is much more of a summery movie about falling in love and saving the dolphins. I remember there being much less dolphin communication, too, but who knows if memory serves here. If you rewatch it, fill me in!

      And yes, five years is a lot when you’re fifteen.
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  6. Brenda

    This was another new to me read, but I think L’Engle’s books are growing on me. I would agree with Kim though, I enjoyed this one more than Wrinkle In Time. I enjoyed the complexity of it and how L’Engle doesn’t shy away from heavy subjects. I enjoyed the connection that Adam and Vicky had and really disliked Zachary, for the way he treated Vicky and this line “Don’t you know you’re all that’s between me and chaos?” Ugh! I wasn’t bothered by the religious tones and never felt like she was hammering away at a message. But, I did enjoy more of the scientific and philosophical elements. Looking forward to Hatchet, always up for some gruesome and survivalists.
    Brenda recently posted…Classic Read-along: A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle

    • Wendy Darling

      YOU KEEP YOUR CHAOS AWAY FROM VICKY, OKAY? Zachary is a pill. I am disappointed in his portrayal in the end, though, because there didn’t turn out to be much nuance in him, unlike all the other characters. He serves as a foil and nothing more, so disappointingly one-note. The earlier hints that there might be an interesting back story and some sort of redemption (his mother, his sickness, apologizing to the Rodneys without fanfare) all disappeared as he spiraled further out of control. But I guess, in a way, it’s somewhat realistic? We’ve all had people we’ve cut out of our lives because they’re too much to deal with, and we never find out what drove them to act like they did.

      I’m glad the religious themes didn’t bother you, it’s always interesting to see how different people respond to the same material. We all bring our own histories and feelings into our reading experiences, and with something as personal as this, there’s bound to be strong reactions. I definitely enjoyed the science and philosophy parts more, too. AND THE DOLPHIN ESP. :D

      Glad you’re joining us for HATCHET! Thanks for dropping by, Brenda, I will be popping in for a long overdue visit soooooon. Happy weekend to you!
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

    • Layla

      Yeah, that felt particularly creeptastic to me as well. Vicky is FIFTEEN, Zachary. She is not responsible for keeping you from the chaos. Stop telling her she is! It just felt weirdly manipulative to me. I know he’s in a lot of pain and is not necessarily thinking about what is fair and what isn’t to Vicky, but man. That’s why I really liked the moment when Grandfather is like, “Hey, maybe this isn’t your problem, Vicky.”

      It seems we all respond differently and personally to the religious overtones in the novel, which is cool. We all bring our own personal histories into our reading experiences, so it’s to be expected. :)

      HATCHET! I have such fond memories of that one. I’m really excited about it. It taught me to retain my sense of wonder when going into grocery stores (all that food I didn’t have to make into food!) but also taught me that I would never survive HATCHET.
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

      • Wendy Darling

        Definitely manipulative. AND he’s like 20, right? And he is much more worldly than she is, so it’s even creepier than the worrisome Adam/Vicky thing. And my prince Adam does not attempt kisses or to push her into doing things against her will. Or try to run over old ladies.

        I think you were probably right in the “keeping her a child” at 15 thing, Layla. I dunno, I feel like that “you commune better with beasts” things could have been lost in favor of a more palatable age difference. But that’s the Adam/Vicky shipper in me.
        Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

        • Layla

          Well, and the thing about THAT is … it’s all in L’Engle’s head, anyway! (That people on the cusp of adulthood are more capable of communing with dolphins, because like, no one is telepathically communicating with dolphins!) Just write a new theory, L’Engle! Speculated that 17 year-olds can communicate with dolphins better! It doesn’t matter, none of it is true anyway! And make Vicky 17 and I will be a million times less weirded out and a happier Vicky / Adam shipper.

          La la la. All the feels.

          And Zachary gunning for those old ladies would have freaked me out. What the hell, man.
          Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

          • Wendy Darling

            Whatever, Layla. I’m just going to go on believing that there’s a girl out there who can call dolphins to her with her mind.

      • Brenda

        I totally missed the age difference until it was mentioned in the review. Makes in even creepier now.

    • Wendy Darling

      “Both wonderful and problematic” is a good way to sum up this whole book, hah. I highly recommend both this book and dolphin dreams. ;) Definitely unlike anything else out there.

    • Layla

      Oh, this is a great book for the summer, I think. Especially if you’re at the beach and have some dolphins in sight / available to practice telepathic communication on. Although on the other hand, since it deals with some fairly serious subject matter, it’s not really light reading, either. In any case, if you do read it, come back and let us know what the re-reading experience was like for you!
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

  7. Shanti

    I’m a 15-going on 16 year old, and I love this book. I’ve read some of Austins other works (A Swiftly Tilting Planet is fabulous) But this one and troubling a Star are my favourites. Vicky is an appealing protagonist. When I think about it, there is a lot of death and sadness in this book, but as Vicky grows up she becomes more aware of it, and growing up (at least in my experience) isn’t easy at all. And sometimes there is death and sadness. I actually found the explorations of religon, science and philosophy in this book fascinating to read about, though it was judgemental at times. This was a really great discussion, Thanks for posting.
    Also: Adam the scientist with a troubled past *swoons*
    Shanti recently posted…Culture in books : Sorcery and Cecelia

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay, a fellow Austin family fan! I really must read TROUBLING A STAR (or really, all of them, I guess) after hearing about these love letters and ice floes.

      I like Vicky a lot. (As much as I liked A WRINKLE IN TIME, the Austins feel much more real to me, and less like characters.) I liked being in her head as she’s trying to figure out what she thinks about everything–and like you, I read it as a teenager, so maybe that’s why I liked the inclusion of the religious and philosophical elements, too. I’m always curious about what people think about things, and even if I’m not in 100% agreement with a point of view, I like reading about subjects I’m not familiar with, particularly if there is an emotional element to them. And figuring out the universe is huge, but also so personal!

      I also think it’s awesome that a YA book tackles these kinds of subjects. I haven’t seen anything written in recent years that comes even close to trying to explore content and themes like these.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the discussion–thanks so much for joining in! ADAM EDDINGTON FOREVER. <3
      Wendy Darling recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

    • Layla

      I know! I finished this one in time, but it was a close call. (The month has really gotten away from me too. I thought it was mid-April but it’s just … not anymore.)

      Yes, the claims of “inverse sexism” really got me as well, because one, that’s not even what “reverse sexism” really means, right? At least in my understanding. (And, um, furthermore, I don’t think “reverse sexism” exists.) And in the context of the novel: it’s totally legitimate for your thirteen year-old to be asking these kinds of questions; don’t shut her down by telling her it’s reverse sexism (especially when it isn’t, although maybe it meant something different when L’Engle first wrote this). But again, these are my feels; it’s 100% ok if other folks don’t share them.

      I want there to be real science that supports and enables my desire to communicate telepathically with dolphins. I wish the book was more of a how-to guide than it is. And I also wish that everyone would stop dying in that book. That, too.

      Looking forward to reading your full thoughts when you’re done with this one!
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

        • Layla

          See, I don’t even see that as reverse sexism (I usually think of reverse sexism as a term that gets used to describe, um, like seeming prejudice against men – like, “Well, you don’t like to read books about guys, but you want male-authored books to feature strong female characters? That’s reverse sexism!”). Shaming women for their choices is like … actual sexism to me. So I think we’re in agreement. :)

          Yeah, and also, don’t shut down conversation with your 13 year-old by getting up on your soapbox, Mrs. Austin! (Suzy has legit feels!)
          Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

    • Kim

      Yeah, I think April just got away from us all. The sneaky thing is that it’s one of those pesky 30 day months. If there had been a 31st then this discussion would’ve been another week out still. But I digress!

      I was totally put off by the “inverse sexism” comments as well. Thankfully it only happens twice. But it just felt so preachy and out of place/nowhere. Like, “mankind” as a default used to mean “all humans” *is* sexist language. It’s gendered language that fully excludes women (not to mention other genders). Humankind is the more accurate, non-sexist term and I can’t understand how questioning the term “mankind” as sexist is “inverse sexism.” But whatever, I sort of just let these things slide when it comes to older books with a sigh and shake of my head. I also don’t like all of the Christian elements. I can’t quite articulate why it feels preachy to me but it does. I’m an atheist, and I honestly don’t mind when characters are religious. That’s just real life! A lot of people are religious and it’s part of their lives and true to their stories! It’s just when it crosses over into that preachiness that it bothers me. I wish I was better able to articulate this. Agh.

      But other than that there are a lot of lovely and poetic passages about philosophy and science. Also, please tell me you’ll be reading HATCHET with us. So excited for that one!
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

      • Pili @ In Love With Handmade

        Oh yeah, Kim! I’m totally reading Hatchet with you guys, I’m taking a hiatus on the blog for the month of May, but I’ll still read and discuss it with you guys! =D

        And I agree with you, as an atheist I don’t get too annoyed at people being religious in books and practicing their beliefs, but when it seems like they’re telling me “that’s the right way” and implying “that’s the one truth” it bothers me very much! Hopefully it won’t get worse on the rest of the book, now that I am at 34%…
        Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Friday Reads: ARC Review of The Shattered Court by M.J. Scott!!

  1. the girl with the silver eyes

    […] Think of the scene in A Ring of Endless Light where Vicky communes with the dolphins and glimpses the mysteries of the universe. It would be like […]