There are some books that come into your life at the perfect time. Maybe you’ll read them again throughout your life, and you’ll still appreciate them, but it won’t measure up to that first read. I guess that could seem sad, but I think it’s a beautiful thing. The fact that a book can be exactly when you didn’t know you needed it? There’s nothing more magical than that.
A book that I read at the perfect time in my life was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light. I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I hadn’t read anything by L’Engle before. I wasn’t privy to A Wrinkle in Time or any of her other books. I remember being at the bookstore in the mall with my mom and deciding, based on the back cover blurb, that I wanted this book in the Austin family series.
Vicky Austin is an observant, yet dreamy narrator. She comments carefully on the world around her, loves her family fiercely, and feels at home on the island where her grandfather lives year-round. Her grandfather is very sick, and the Austins have come to stay with him and help care for him.
To complicate this already-difficult summer, Vicky finds herself to be the center of attention for three boys in her life. There’s Leo, a family friend who recently lost his father and relies on Vicky for comfort. There’s Zachary, a reckless rich boy who’s dealing with ghosts of his own. And finally, there’s Adam: a student on the island conducting dolphin research. Vicky struggles to process her feelings for these boys while simultaneously trying to prepare herself for the loss of her grandfather.
A Ring of Endless Light is a story of romance, and grief, and family. It is a story about finding your identity in the confusing time that is adolescence. And even though I wasn’t struggling with grief in my own life (and I CERTAINLY wasn’t fending off three boys!), I think that I read L’Engle’s novel at the perfect time.
Vicky’s loyalty towards her family made me appreciate my own. Her love for the island she summers on made me notice the small details about my own town that made me happy to call it home. Vicky is growing with the summer – all tan limbs and power and intelligence – and I realized that I could feel that way, too. At the awkward age of double-digits-but-not-quite-a-teen, I took comfort in the fact that I would grow into myself. And maybe there would eventually be boys, all different in their own way, who might make making decisions difficult. And maybe there wouldn’t be any boys at all, and that would be okay, too, because there were a lot of things to be happy about. (I totally wanted to go on a date with Zachary, who took Vicky to a country club and drove recklessly fast, and who was a hopeless, handsome mess.)
There’s a beautiful quote in the book about seizing the day that still gives me goosebumps, all these years later:
“If we knew each morning that there was going to be another morning, and on and on and on, we’d tend not to notice the sunrise, or hear the birds, or the waves rolling into shore. We’d tend not to treasure our time with the people we love.”
I’ll always remember the way Vicky described the dolphins as “pewter.” I’ll always remember how she made cafe au lait on the stove, which sounded like the most elegant, yet simple, thing.
I wish I had a profound reason for stating “I read this at the right time.” But there are some books that you just know. And I will always be thankful for that.
[I want to hear about the books that you’ve read at the right time. Let me know in the comments below. Or better yet – write a post of your own and send it my way!]