They told Madeleine L’Engle her book was too strange. Nevertheless, she persisted.
In the summer of my thirteenth year, my family moved away from the small town where I’d lived my whole life. Away from my little friends. Our small town was urban, right outside of Philadelphia. Our new place was in the country. Sure, it smelled wonderful, like pine trees. Sure, wild strawberries grew in the fields, but there weren’t any kids in sight. I wanted to go back to my little town, where playmates were always right outside the front door.
My mother could see I needed company. Her solution was inspired. She handed me a book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I was already an avid reader, but I had never encountered anything so absorbing, the beginning of my obsession with science fiction and science fiction fantasy. My imagination was on fire. My mind was racing. The heroine was a 13-year-old girl just like me! I read it once, then twice. This book taught me about heroism, about love. I wanted to meet the happy, gentle centaurs that populated one of the book’s fantastic planets.
Recently, I gave my step-granddaughter a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. My granddaughter is a cool kid. Climbs to the tops of mountains. Excellent at mathematics. What better book for her than the story of Meg, a brave girl close to her age, also great at math? Meg sets out to rescue her father from a planet enslaved by an evil disembodied brain with powerful telepathic abilities. The brain, known as IT, exerts hypnotic control over the inhabitants’ minds.
I hope my granddaughter loves this book as much as I do. I hope it helps her develop a life-long love of reading. And if she tells me she likes it, I’ll tell her the challenge faced by Madeleine L’Engle to get it published. She was rejected by 26 houses. According to a well-sourced Wikipedia article, publishers thought the book was too unusual, with too much science. They thought its stark presentation of evil was too dark for young adult fiction. In fact, several paragraphs comparing the enforced conformity of the evil brain’s planet to totalitarian regimes were cut from the final draft.
L’Engle has also explained that female protagonists were rare in science fiction at the time, making it a hard sell.
Lucky for us, those days are over! And thank the writing gods that Madeleine L’Engle persisted. Her book went on to win the Newbery Medal and, according to Wikipedia, has been in continuous print since it was published. The book even got a shout out at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, when Chelsea Clinton mentioned it as a book that influenced her as a child. From one generation to the next. I should tell my granddaughter about Chelsea, too.