Editor’s Note: Jaleigh Johnson, author of the new book The Mark of the Dragonfly, shares with Unbound Worlds one of the books that most influenced her as a child coming of age, and why.
Looking back, I think one of the most influential books from my middle-grade reading years was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It was probably one of the first speculative fiction titles I loved, at least in that age group. But mostly I loved the book because of Meg Murry and her family.
I first read A Wrinkle in Time in fifth or sixth grade, and I immediately connected with Meg, although at the time, I don’t know if I would have been able to articulate why. I didn’t have Meg’s fire or her fighting spirit. We looked nothing alike. I just knew that I wanted to sit at the Murrys’ kitchen table, drink cocoa, and eat liverwurst and cream cheese sandwiches. To this day, it’s one of my favorite openings to a book. No explosions, no deadly danger on page one, just a family coming together and offering one another comfort on a stormy night. Don’t get me wrong, you get the sense that something momentous and undefinable is about to happen. But at the same time you know nothing scary could penetrate that bright circle of warmth. And after reading just a few pages, you know everything you need to know about the Murry family and how much they love one another.
Like Meg, I was uncomfortable in my own skin, but I cared deeply about my family. We didn’t have the liverwurst sandwiches – for us it was popcorn popped on the stove late at night – but the warmth was the same. I knew exactly how Meg felt about herself because I felt the same way. I had trouble fitting in and finding my place in the world, and my fifth- and sixth-grade years were awkward at best. I was so tiny, so quiet, with hair short enough that people called me a boy. And just as Meg’s parents did with her, my mom and dad assured me that someday I would “grow up to [myself]” and figure out that everything about me I thought of as a weakness was actually a strength. They were right, of course, but as an adolescent, I didn’t believe them. I was stubborn, just like Meg.
Even now, when I write characters like Piper and Anna and throw these huge obstacles in their path, I think, somewhere in the back of my head, that I’m still holding an image of Meg Murry walking into IT’s lair to rescue her baby brother. The “foolish and the weak” band together and confront the villains of the story, trying to save one another with little more than their caring. And because of that, I would follow those heroines through any danger.