A Wrinkle in Time, although the granddaddy of the Time Quartet/O'Keefe family series of novels, feels like the youngest. It has an innocence about it and a deceptive simplicity in its writing style that gives it a sense that it was written for a younger audience than the books that follow. This only serves to add to the book's charm.
The writing style may be tailored for young readers (and Madeleine shamelessly begins the book with "It was a dark and stormy night"), but there is a lot more here for readers of all ages to enjoy. One of those things is the character of Meg. The author very quickly puts together this thirteen(?) year old girl who is both vulnerable and brave, absolutely human and instantly likable. Madeleine's adept characterisation also assists Calvin, a fourteen year old boy who lives nearby and who clearly falls head-over-heels for young Meg at first sight. It's no surprise to find Meg and Calvin married to each other years on in such books as A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Arm of the Starfish and A House Like a Lotus.
There are a lot of things for readers to identify with. Female readers should identify with protagonist Meg, while male readers besotted my Meg might identify themselves with Calvin, and enjoy Calvin and Meg's growing relationship (albeit vicariously). Both Meg and Calvin are something of outsiders amongst children of their own age, which makes them all the more sympathetic to any child or adult who was just a little different from the rest at school, and paid for it. Through their shared outsider status, Calvin and Meg are instant friends, and I want to be their friend too. I want to be Calvin, to support this brave young woman, and to be a part of her loving family.
Completing the legion of interesting characters is young Charles Wallace Murry -- a five-year-old kid who would be frighteningly intelligent if he weren't nearly as congenial as he is. However, despite being the most gifted person of the three, he is still still quite vulnerable and human, showing that even those of us as vulnerable as Meg can do something as heroic as saving someone as powerful as Charles Wallace.
These characterizations would be empty icing if the cake itself weren't substantial. A Wrinkle in Time is full of fantastic things as "tessering" through time and space, near angelic creatures and a good-old solid plot of good fighting against evil. Beneath these fantastic things, you get commentaries on the perils of conformity, God's place in the universe, and why in the universe of a loving God, evil things still happen to good people.
Madeleine L'Engle is well known for her theological writings, and many compare her Wrinkle in Time series (and most of her books) to the allegorical Christianity of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series. Madeleine's writing is far more straightforward than Lewis', however, and the presentation of Christian themes is more up-front than the allegory of Narnia. At the same time, the so-called Christian themes hardly dominate the book. Just like C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series, everybody can tune in for the story alone, and still come away satisfied.
Can Meg and Charles Wallace, with the help of Calvin, rescue their missing father from the darkness of the monstrous "IT"? The ending is not in doubt, but the journey is fascinating. Meg, of course, overcomes her vulnerabilities and saves the day. Readers of all ages will be hooked.