When I was young, the world I really wanted to live in was that of Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil. I read as many of the other Shoes books I could get my hands on, and my desire to be famous for something (dancing, acting, singing, it didn’t matter which) made me want to be one of those girls. As I got older, I started reading Tamora Pierce and I wanted to be a brave heroine who got to use a sword and fight with magic powers. I read plenty of other books, but those were the heroines I wanted to be. Those were the books that really shaped my life.
Then I discovered Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family Chronicles. I started with A Ring of Endless Light, finished it, and immediately read it again. Here was something different. Here was a family who valued hard work, who had normal relationships (they weren’t always nice to each other), and who sang and read books and talked about God. This was a world that valued learning, and valued good character and wisdom. There was so much hope in that book. There was also enough romance to keep my interest, but if I had to say why I read it again, it wasn’t because of the romance. It was because of faith.
I wish I had read the other Austin Family books when I was younger. I am glad I read Ballet Shoes, and learned what I could from it, besides enjoying the story. I learned a lot from reading Tamora Pierce. But I wish I could have escaped into the Austin family’s world. I wish that world would have influenced what I wanted out of life, not the world of Posy Fossil or Alanna. Vicky Austin and I still have a lot in common, and while she has a lot of teenage angst, I think her perspective was more solid than mine ever was. I wish I could have had the example of really thinking things through, pondering over hard questions, seeing the magic in every day life, and even crying over the hard parts of life, from a young age, growing up from the first book to the last.
The world hasn’t changed much since Madeleine L’Engle wrote those books. There is still war, there is still drug abuse, there are still young people who are trying to see the good, and true, and beautiful in the world and praise God for it. There is still a time for reading good books, and listening to good music, and having conversations that might be hard but need to be had, and asking questions there aren’t any answers to. So often in modern books I see people give into the darkness; the Austin family acknowledges the darkness but chooses to sing the song, read the bedtime story, anyway. And that’s a world I want to be part of.