Meet the Austins // The Moon by Night // by Madeline L’Engle

//published 1960//

I’m currently reading all of L’Engle’s books that seem to have crisscrossing characters from what generally seemed to be referred to as her “Chronos” and “Kairos” books – the Austins, whose stories move through time chronologically; and the Murrys/O’Keefes, whose stories move through time in a more wibbly-wobbly manner.  I’m coming into these more or less completely unfamiliar with them.  I read A Wrinkle in Time and at least a couple of its sequels back in middle/junior/high school sometime and felt rather ambivalent towards them.  This time around, I’ve taken all the books listed as Chronos or Kairos and am reading them in publication order.  I’ve mentioned it before, but published order is, generally speaking, my favorite way to read a series for the first time – it seems more organic to read them in the order the author created them.

And so, here we are.  I didn’t realize that there were multiple interconnected series until after I had already read A Wrinkle in Time (which is being reviewed in July’s minireviews).  Technically, I ought to have read Meet the Austins first, then Wrinkle, then The Moon by Night.  But I think I’ll manage to muddle through despite reading Wrinkle first.

Both of these books focus on the same family and have the same narrator.  Vicky Austin is part of a rambunctious, happy, close-knit family growing up in a small town in Connecticut.  In the first book, their family peace is somewhat disturbed by the arrival of a new foster sister.  In the second book, set two years later, things are changing as the children all get older, and the family takes a long road trip around the country as one last hurrah before the oldest child heads off to college and the rest of the family moves to New York City for Vicky’s dad’s new job.

I really enjoyed these stories – Meet the Austins more than The Moon by Night – mostly because it was so enjoyable to read about a family wherein the members of said family actually like each other.  Vicky’s parents are happily married and work together to parent their children as best they can.  They are patient and understanding.  The children have their squabbles, but are ultimately very loyal to one another.  I also grew up in a tight family, and still consider my siblings to be my closest friends.  It was really pleasant to read about a family that more closely matched my own than all these broken, angst-riddled families in more modern YA, with angry, bitter parents who hate each other and whiny, selfish children who only think of their own problems and no one else’s.  I was quite in agreement with the majority of the Austin parents’ parenting decisions, which is more than I can say for most modern writing.

We seem to watch a lot less television than most of our friends, partly because our parents limit our watching, but largely because there’s so much else to do.

It was also fun to read Meet the Austins from Vicky’s perspective.  She’s the next-to-the-oldest in the family.  When Maggy comes to stay with their family, she’s closest in age to Vicky’s next sister, Suzy.  I feel like a lot of time, this story would have been told from the perspective of either Maggy (freshly orphaned, struggling to fit into a new home) or Suzy (suddenly sharing a room and life with a new sister almost her exact same age).  Instead, the story is told by one of the more ‘regular’ characters, an interesting reminder that a tragedy touches many more people than those closest to it.

There is a lot of “religious talk” in both these books.  On the whole, I was okay with it.  I didn’t always agree with L’Engle’s theology, but I appreciated the way that she created a family who believed in attending church and saying prayers, without making a huge fuss out of it.  Vicky’s grandpa is a retired minister, but that doesn’t turn him into a hypocritical monster.  Instead, he’s a wise and gentle old man who loves his family dearly and is always there for advice and compassion.

//published 1963//

I did feel like the religion part was a bit more preachy in The Moon, and it was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy that book quite as much as Meet the Austins.  In The Moon, Vicky is going through a “rebellious” phase, which mostly seems to consist of her complaining about her super amazing life.  I got a little tired of her internal whining and her condescending attitude towards her family’s religion.  There was a lot more philosophizing and contemplation in The Moon, and it didn’t always make for exciting reading.

Meet the Austins had much more of a story than The Moon.  While there wasn’t this big mystery or anything, there were interconnected vignettes of daily life that painted a picture of how life was changing for the family.  In The Moon, swaths of the story felt much more like a travelogue, with Vicky describing specific state parks in detail, including what types of restroom facilities were available and how nice the fire rings were, and reiterating repeatedly about how different different parts of the country were from others.  It’s also hard to get a grasp on how much time is passing in The Moon – I assume they were gone all summer??  And their route seemed incredibly meandery, as they kept popping up into Canada and then back down into Wyoming and that sort of thing.

However, it was really interesting to read a book so firmly set in the Cold War.  There was a lot of talk about evacuation routes and emergency school drills and bunkers.  It’s just intriguing how that was so much a thing on the mind all the time.

One weird thing about The Moon that I’m not sure if it was originally published this way purposefully, or if something got messed up when they were printing the edition that I was reading, but during dialogue, instead of entire words being italicized, it would just be a syllable.  This genuinely drove me crazy.  While I definitely feel like people talk with italics (“This genuinely drove me crazy!”), I don’t feel like people only emphasize one syllable most of the time??  Here’s an actual sentence from the book to show you what I mean:

I know, Mother, that’s exactly the point.  It doesn’t matter if a baby isn’t housebroken.  He wears diapers.

???  Is it just me, or does this seem extremely strange?  I try to read that as it’s written and it sounds very strange to me.  It was like that ALL THE TIME.

All in all, 4* for Meet the Austins and 3.5* for The Moon by Night.  I got impatient with Vicky’s teenage angst in The Moon, and the kid she likes, Zachary, was a real tool.  But I’m looking forward to reading some more of these books.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.  :-D