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Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle
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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Well, dang. I'm glad I didn't let my totally lukewarm reaction to A Wrinkle in Time stop me from picking up this first novel in L'Engle's The Austin Family Chronicles. I've said that I enjoyed the first bit of A Wrinkle in Time, before the kids go off on the adventure, while the rest of it left me pretty cold. This book is like nothing but that first bit that I liked! The story follows the Austins, a family of six, and centers around second oldest Austin child Vicky. At the start of the story the Austins take in a spoiled and recently orphaned child of a family friend, and the novel revolves around the family's reactions to this disruption to their lives, but really it's just wonderful slice of life stuff, dealing with hard things, big emotions, growing up, and figuring out who you are and where you fit in the universe. That last bit is specifically Christian in the book, but I think the experience of the seeking would be widely applicable, regardless of the reader's religious feelings. I will be reading more of this series. Recommended. ( )
  lycomayflower | Apr 27, 2019 |
In my upper years of grade school, I discovered Madeleine L'Engle's Time Trilogy (at the time it was a trilogy) and my literary world changed. The sense of wonder those books awakened served as my gateway to the realms of science fiction and fantasy. At least, that's how I remember it. In any case, she was a "favorite author" and A Wrinkle in Time was the best book ever. And yet, for some reason I did not explore much of her work beyond these books. It was probably because, despite some of the titles, they didn't seem like fantasy at all. They were realistic, and I was reading to get away from all that. (And some of them looked like -- ugh -- romances!)

In recent years I've been looking back on that era. I've re-read some favorites, and tried to "catch up" on others that I remember but didn't read at the time. So, here I am.

The Austins are a family of six (four children) plus two dogs and an indeterminate number of cats. Father is a doctor, mother used to be a singer but gave it up to raise a family. They are loving but stern in that 1950s way. At the beginning of the novel, they receive a call about a friend of a relative who has tragically died, leaving behind a daughter. The girl, Maggy Hamilton, is to come live with the Austins.

Unfortunately, Maggy is a spoiled brat, rude, disruptive, and a bad influence on Suzy, the youngest Austin girl. But the family does their best to cope with her and everyone eventually learns to love and respect one another.

There's no high adventure here; the situations are pretty mundane and the most dramatic thing that happens is a small boy gets lost on the beach. But the writing has intelligence and charm and that kept me reading.

And then there's the religion. I expected it, but I had hoped it would be worked into the story in a more natural fashion. At first it's not too bad, but eventually it starts get shoehorned in more and more awkwardly, as if the author realized she had gone 30 pages without mentioning God and needed to get to it. It's worst towards the end, when they visit their reverend grandfather. She even tries to argue that Einstein was religious, a tired old myth that people still use to defend the coexistence of science and religion.

Still, I did enjoy the story, which was otherwise charming and nostalgic and not without humor. I shall continue on with L'Engle Quest. ( )
  chaosfox | Feb 22, 2019 |
I picked up Meet the Austins on impulse last night. I was feeling poorly and just wanted to crawl into bed; bringing along a nice little young adult story seemed like a very soothing way to rest. I was browsing the sale books at my local bookstore on the way home (as you do) and bought it on the strength of the author, Madeleine L'Engle. Apparently, this is the first of a set of stories known as the Chronos series.

It is a charming little story featuring Vicky, the 12-year-old older daughter, as the narrator of the Austin family. Her older brother John is 15 years old, has ambitions to be an astronaut and scientist, and works on his own space suit in his spare time. Suzy, her 9-year-old sister wants to be a doctor and conducts daily surgeries on her dolls. Rob, the younger brother, is six years old and rounds out the kids of the family. Their dad is a doctor, and their mom is a housewife. The family includes a great dane named Mr Rochester and the poodle Collette, plus assorted cats (with names like Prunewhip, Hamlet and Cream). They live an idyllic life in a 200-year-old farmhouse outside a small New England town. The book was published in 1960 and feels reminiscent of TV shows of the era, such as Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and especially Don't Eat the Daisies, with wholesome families, sibling squabbles, bedtime prayers and mealtime grace, naughtiness and spankings, good kids struggling to understand serious events and their own feelings, and so on.

The story opens during Uncle Douglas (dad's younger brother) visit and the family working on dinner when mom receives an emergency call that changes everything. It's from family friend Aunt Elena, who was mom's roommate in college and is now a concert pianist. Her pilot husband Hal died instantly along with his copilot while flying an experimental aircraft. She's about to leave on tour, is devastated by her loss, and is suddenly trying to find someone to care for Maggie, the copilot's 10-year-old daughter who has suddenly become an orphan, her mother having died recently too as a result of illness.

Maggie is the stereotypical lonely rich girl who grew up in the care of servants and all the material possessions money could buy but without a loving, stable home as her absentee mother continued to enjoy her jet set lifestyle. She'd only recently gone to live with her pilot father because her maternal grandfather was too ill to take charge of a child. Then she comes to live with the Austin family, resulting in conflict and drama on top of the usual rivalry and support among siblings. Predictably, she acts up, behaves badly, is mean, and generally plays out the spoiled rich kid trope,

The story reads almost like a series of vignettes, first setting the scene, then Maggie arriving and being assimilated into the family routine. From there, various events happen: bad weather, domestic disasters, illness, injury, visitors, school, vacation, etc. Vicky and her siblings not surprisingly don't welcome the disruption of this unknown interloper at first, and by the end of the story don't want her taken away from them. The story also includes vivid descriptions of the natural beauty of the New England countryside in fall and winter.

It's not a particularly deep or clever story, but it is charming and clearly geared toward instilling Christian moral values in young readers. The characters are appealing, the scenery is delightful, and the story shows children grappling with death, loss, change, trauma, and other big, scary facts of life. But it also shows the strength of family, love, and healthy, supportive relationships at all ages, as well as children being given the space to explore their own interests and be their own persons.

I don't regret the evening spent with this book. It was just what I needed. But I'm not interested in keeping the book. I'll probably add it to a Little Free Library in an area frequented by younger readers. I looked up the other books in the series. Meh. I don't think I'll pursue them. However, I am looking forward to diving into the boxed set of the Time Quintet (beginning with A Wrinkle in Time) that I picked up at WisCon this spring. ( )
  justchris | Nov 22, 2018 |
I read this decades ago and decided it was time to see if it were as good as I remembered. If anything, it was better. I think it is because I have experienced loss, making some of this more real. While death looms over the book (Maggie has been suddenly orphaned), it is far more about life. As L'Engle writes, "But being alive is a gift, the most wonderful and exciting gift in the world."

As is true in many of L'Engle's books, faith is a cornerstone in the story. For that aspect, I think this quotation rang most true for me: "The search for knowledge and truth can be the most exciting thing there is as long as it takes you toward God instead of away from Him.”

The book is a comfortable one. I liked the children who were far from perfect, but mostly tried to be good people. Sometimes in this world of social media and sometimes cruel memes, it helps to step away. This book was perfect for that. I will be reading the sequels.

The book is perfect for thoughtful middle-school aged children and older. Adults can read it with new and deeper understanding. It is highly recommended. ( )
  Jean_Sexton | Oct 2, 2018 |
This is a family story, introducing characters who, I assume, will feature in others in the series. It was published in 1960 as a contemporary novel for older children and teens, and as such is an interesting snapshot into US life in that era.

Vicky is the narrator of this book. She’s twelve, and the second of four children. There’s not much plot as such. Instead it’s a series of incidents showing family life, each chapter being complete in itself. The chapters are quite long; there are only five in around 150 pages. We see the family on stressful days as well as relaxing together on holiday.

L’Engle had a gift for characterisation, and that's what makes this interesting and enjoyable reading. Perhaps some of her people are caricatured, but I very much liked the children. It’s not a great literary work but I’m glad I’ve read it at last. Suitable for any child from the age of about seven or eight. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jul 7, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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Marie, JorjeanaNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 044095777X, Mass Market Paperback)

Reading award-winning author Madeleine L'Engle's Meet the Austins is like taking a vacation with the warm, compassionate Austins--an extraordinary family who takes a little girl named Maggy Hamilton under its wing when her father is killed in a plane accident. Adjusting to a new household member is not easy, as the 12-year-old narrator, Vicky, will testify. Maggy is spoiled, "ubiquitous," laughs in a "horrid, screechy way," and appears to be a child of an entirely different species from the thoughtful, intelligent, kind, yet not cloyingly so, Austin kids. Still, Vicky and her other siblings (Rob, Suzy, and John) grit their collective teeth and struggle to understand her, which becomes easier and easier as the loving family seems to rub off on the newly orphaned Maggy.

The Austins are beyond question a charming family, but their path is by no means rock-free: Vicky sneaks off to a friend's house and severely injures herself in a bike accident, they all get the measles, John is beat up after his guest sermon in church, and they almost lose little Rob. Despite ordinary family setbacks, there's no use pretending this is a run-of-the-mill family. When Vicky is sick, her older brother, John, comes into her room and soothes her with a discussion of the solar system, our atomic composition, and the relativity of size. Family dinner-table talk includes the ethics of meat eating, and a chat with Grandfather ends up with a discussion of whether Einstein believed in God. As in all of L'Engle's novels, she asks the big questions: What is the meaning of life, and how does death fit into that? Are there different kinds of intelligence? What happens when you remove a screw from a radiator? This strangely comforting novel, first published in 1960, is an ALA Notable Book, and was followed by four other books featuring the Austin Family: The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light (a Newbery Honor Book), and Troubling a Star. (Ages 9 to 12) --Karin Snelson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:51 -0400)

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The warm, happy life of the Austin family is disturbed by a spoiled, sullen girl who has been orphaned by the sudden death of her father.

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