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Retro Friday Review: And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.
I think this may have been the last Madeleine L'Engle book I read (for the first time) as a teenager. And for some reason it holds a sort of distinction in my head because of that fact. I, like most other readers I know who love her books, got in on the whole thing with A Wrinkle in Time, moving on to the other Murry and O'Keefe family books and then the Austin family series and so on from there. I must have been somewhere around ten or so when I first read the Time series and by the time I got through all the others and worked my way around to her standalones I was a bit older. Although one of my very favorite things about her body of young adult work is that there are so many connections between them. And while And Both Were Young is probably one of the most standalone of them all, for the discerning reader there is a very lovely, very oblique reference to its main character in L'Engle's much later novel A Severed Wasp. Interestingly, I don't think I ever realized just how old this book is. Originally published in 1949, it was actually her first young adult novel. Incidentally, my copy features the cover on the left. I chose this book for today's edition of Retro Friday because the lovely new edition on the right was just released on Tuesday and, as it is one of my very favorite of L'Engle's books, I wanted to highlight it here while I convince my local bookshop to order a copy into the store. 


Phillipa Hunter, better known as Flip (oh, how much I love this), never wanted to leave her father and her Connecticut home to come to a Swiss boarding school. That was her father's new "friend" Eunice's bright idea. Since her mother passed away, Flip has grown even closer to her artist father and the idea of leaving him and attending a foreign school among a host of strange other girls terrifies her. But her father is bound for China to draw and Eunice is traveling with him instead of Flip. And so Flip tries to hide her trembling and put on a brave face for her father's sake. But boarding school is just as alien and difficult as she feared. Though the girls hail from all over the globe, Flip finds it hard to fit in. Long-limbed and lacking in coordination, she watches her fellow students from the sidelines and prays for the year to be up soon.  The one bright spot in the gloom is her art teacher Percy--a young woman who seems to understand Flip's solitude and need to filter her kaleidoscopic emotions through some sort of creative act. Then one day out exploring further than she ought to be above the school grounds, Flip runs into a young man named Paul. Paul lives with his father in a small cottage not far from the school. These two dispossessed young teenagers form a friendship and, in the process, find the kind of acceptance and understanding in each other that they've been searching for. 


Flip is the kind of foot-in-her-mouth, arms-and-legs-everywhere protagonist that I connected with instantly as a teen reader. I loved her for her haplessness and the way that she just kept on stumbling through her outer coating of awkward to a place where she could voice her thoughts and experiences so that someone else could see them and appreciate her for who she was. In my eyes, that made her admirable--that drive to keep going despite the many misconceptions and deliberate slights of those around her. That was what was so hard for me at that age, and I like to think I drew a little strength from watching her try and fail and try again and succeed. It helped that her interactions with Percy were so poignant, particularly in the wake of having lost her mother and being without her father. The other girls at the school were especially well done as well. At first you think they will be mere stereotypical characterizations, the way Flip almost expects them to be, but they each emerge from their initial roles to play an important part in Flip's development. And then there's Paul. Lovely Paul. He has long reminded me of Jeff Greene from A Solitary Blue and a kinder, less destructive Zachary Grey. Yes. You will fall in love with Paul just as much as Flip does. And the even more gratifying thing is that the story is not just about Flip's journey to self-discovery, but Paul's as well. It's not all the way he fills her needs, but how she fills his as he has an unusually dark past that he is rather successfully steadfastly refusing to deal with until Flip comes along. This is an eternally sweet and moving book. Like so many of L'Engle's books, I turn to this one when I want to be reminded that the world and the people in it can be beautiful despite the darkness. 


Linkage
Bookworm Burrow Review


Retro Friday Roundup
Bookworm Nation reviews Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Comments

  1. L'Engle played such a big part in my childhood and pre-teen years, I can't believe I haven't heard of this one before!

    The storyline reminds me faintly (mostly the foreign boarding school aspect) of Bloomability by Sharon Creech, which I also loved.

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  2. I have a friend who's been recommending this to me forever but for some reason I never seem to get around to it. I don't know why, because it sounds like exactly the sort of thing I'd like -- when I was a teenager I loved the idea of Swiss boarding school!

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  3. This is the L'Engle I've read over and over thru the years, rather than her sci fi. This one I connected with as a teenager - I think most girls would connect with Flip - and I still have a great fondness as an adult. And the connections to WWII still mean something today. It's a very good book. And very sweet.

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  4. This is one of my re-read books! Even though I do want to shake Flip at times, I still relate to her so very strongly....

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  5. Emily, you too? I feel the same way. Such a big role. I think you definitely need to read this one. And the new edition out makes it so much easier. ;)

    mainhoonemily, no way! Your friend is wise...

    Jill, that makes me happy to hear. And I agree, it's worn very well over the years and holds so much meaning despite its age.

    Charlotte, yay! And I know what you mean, I want to shake her sometimes, too. Wonder what it says about us that we relate to her so well? *grin*

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  6. I loved L'Engle's Time series when I was younger but I've never heard of this one before. I'm definitely going to check it out if/when it gets here. Is Camilla just as good?

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  7. Chachic, CAMILLA is very unique among L'Engle's work. Definitely worth a read. And she continues Camilla and her family's story in the much later A LIVE COAL IN THE SEA, which is just wonderful.

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  8. I like your blog! I've added a link to it from my blog, on a new Book Review Blogs page. I'll soon be blogging about the importance of reviewers.

    Thanks for doing what you do!

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  9. Suzette, thanks for the add and your kind comment. I'll be sure to check out your new page.

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  10. Oh, I love this one, too. And I turn to L'Engle's books over and over again, for exactly the reason you mention. It's great that you're spreading the word about this one!

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  11. Darla, it deserves spreading, doesn't it? I devoured everything I could find by her way back when. But I know several get lost in the cracks for many.

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  12. +JMJ+

    I also first read And Both Were Young as a teenager. I reread some of it this morning, looking for a vaguely-remembered line, and felt so nostalgic for my first few years of independent reading!

    The other girls at the school are a lot more ordinary than the typical Madeleine L'Engle supporting cast--and I mean that in a good way. One thing I have grown gradually more critical of in L'Engle's novels is her penchant for extraordinary, almost "elect" supporting characters. Everyone is special in some way, and I find that less and less satisfying with each reread. Well, we already see that tendency here in And Both Were Young, peeking out in Madame Perceval, in Philip Hunter, and in Monsieur Laurent. But their "specialness" doesn't dominate the story. And I'm really glad that Flip wants to find a balance between being "like herself" (as she puts it) and like everyone else at the same time. If I had seen more of that in Vicky Austin, I might have liked this later character more. As things stand, well, she's just L'Engle's "Sue" to me now. =P



    By the way, I really love your description of Paul as "a kinder, less destructive Zachary Grey"! I guess L'Engle intensified all her personal tropes as she went on, aye? =)

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