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Young Adult Fiction

A Ring of Endless Light

YA Fiction Review

by Lauren Alise Schultz

As I have read and re-read Madeline L’Engle’s Time Quintet, I have to admit that I’ve found most of the series less than thrilling. The exception has been A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which I really enjoyed. For this reason, I was hesitant to pick up another one of L’Engle’s novels, but reviews of A Ring of Endless Light are so positive all around that I decided to give the author one more shot – and I’m incredibly glad that I did.

Out of all five of her novels that I’ve read, A Ring of Endless Light is by far my favorite; it is a moving, well-written story about a young girl trying to come to grips with tragedy, illness, and death over the summer before her sixteenth birthday. This isn’t the same kind of Fantasy/Science Fiction novel for children as A Wrinkle in Time and the rest the Time Quintet; this is a sophisticated novel that wrestles with a lot of questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God.

Vicky Austin feels surrounded and overwhelmed by death. She and her family have come to Seven Bay Island to spend the summer with her grandfather, who is dying of leukemia. Vicky realizes that her father, who is a doctor, does not expect her beloved grandfather to live longer than these few summer months. The idea of loosing someone so close to her would be difficult enough for any young girl, but Vicky is quickly confronted with the deaths of several other people. Commander Rodney, a close family friend, is killed in a boating accident only a week after the Austin family arrives on the island. The Commander’s son Leo quickly turns to Vicky for comfort, and although she doesn’t want to have a romantic relationship with him, she wants to support him as a friend. Then her ex-boyfriend Zachary comes to see her, revealing that his mother has been killed in a car accident and that he has tried to commit suicide. He wants Vicky’s support as well, but he begins to reveal a manic, self-destructive side that frightens her.

While both of these boys want Vicky’s emotional support, neither one of them is able to offer her the kind of comfort that she needs as she watches her grandfather deteriorate. Then a third young man steps into the picture. Adam works with Vicky’s older brother John and is studying to be a marine biologist; he seems to be a much more stable and supportive guy who understands Vicky’s confusion and grief. As Vicky begins to help Adam with his summer project, studying the communication between humans and dolphins, the two grow closer. But Vicky soon realizes that Adam has also experienced death and needs to grieve.

Vicky is caught between all three guys as they vie for her attention, but this novel is far from being a teenage soap opera. It is a thoughtful picture of how a stable, loving family must cope with the loss of a beloved grandparent as he comes closer and closer to death. Reading the novel after having just recently lost two of my grandparents, A Ring of Endless Light punched me right in the gut. I was able to relate to the medical emergencies, the worry, the desire to make your loved one more comfortable, and the struggle to figure out how to allow them to die with dignity. I was also able to relate to all the questions that this situation raised for Vicky about the meaning of life, the acceptance of death, and the existence of God. On top of all that, Vicky is also dealing with questions that most teenage girls face, such as what kind of a romantic relationship she wants and what direction she should pursue as she leaves high school behind. I deeply sympathized with Vicky as she struggled through all of these challenging questions. And I was moved by the way she desired to support all three boys, and therefore found herself overwhelmed by all the tragedy and death. The flood of Vicky’s emotions gives a realistic picture of what often happens when you begin experiencing death around you and death of your loved ones.

Even though there are so many things going on in the novel, it is easy to follow and deeply moving at the same time. As already mentioned, I am not particularly fond L’Engle’s novels, partially because the plotting and writing do not seem very coherent to me at times, but those things are not an issue in this novel at all. It is as though with A Ring of Endless Light, L’Engle finally found her sweet spot. Despite her obvious love for a younger audience and creative combinations from Sci-Fi and Fantasy, she is able to write to an older group of readers in a way that is emotionally resonant to many in that age group. I remember struggling with a lot of questions about life and God when I was sixteen and how keenly I felt all of my emotions, so I am always elated to see an author take the uncertainties of an adolescent seriously. Additionally, L’Engle has toned down the science fiction aspects of her writing in A Ring of Endless Light so that they complement the story, but do not overwhelm the emotional considerations or seem too incredible to swallow. This feels the right dose of L’Engle’s creativity to me.

Overall, I cannot reiterate enough that A Ring of Endless Light is a somewhat painful but beautiful novel – one that I believe can be appreciated by a much wider audience than her Time Quintet. Go pick this one up at the library or bookstore as soon as possible.

Ring Of Endless Light
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Madeline L'Engle
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