Meet the Austins
By Madeleine L'Engle
Square Fish September 2008
From my shelves
The Austin home is a place of happy chaos. The family includes four kids, several pets, and lots of noise. It seems like it should be no imposition to add one more child to the mix. When a family friend dies, his daughter Maggy joins the Austin clan. But Maggy does not fit well with Vicky, John, Suzy, and Rob. She is disrespectful to their parents, breaks toys, and disrupts their happy routine. Is there a place for Maggy in the Austin family?
Meet The Austins is clearly a book for children. That being said, there is something enchanting about an adult writing a book from a child's perspective. L'Engle articulates all of the little mysteries and injustices of childhood better than we can when we are actually experiencing them. She captures the security of knowing we have a family who loves us and the slow change of family dynamics.
While you could argue that this is simply a children's book about dealing with new circumstances, I think it goes deeper than that. It's about how we deal with changes in life: Maggy becomes sullen and causes trouble to deal with the loss of her father, Suzy is easily persuaded to join in Maggy's mischief making because one more child means a little less attention per kid, and Vicky acts out because her perceptions of her family are shifting. Reading as an adult, you pay attention to how the parents cope as well and the ways in which they help their children to heal and grow.
One of my favorite quotes from the book:
"Aren't you sorry for people who don't laugh, Vicky?"
"Yes. And people who don't love music and books."
"And people," John said.
The Austin Family is charming. They care for each other very much and always hope for the best. But they can do this without becoming cloying. Reading about the Austins feels like receiving a big hug from Madeleine L'Engle and maybe, if you're lucky, it will remind you of your own childhood.