Kitty's Reviews > Many Waters

Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
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Mar 27, 14

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Read from July 24 to 25, 2011

It always amuses me when people say "coming of age story" when what they really mean is "sexual awakening". And don't be confused, there *is* a difference. Take for instance Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 film Spirited Away, this is a great example of a coming of age film. Yes, the protagonist Chihiro does meet a certain dragon/boy she may like more than a friend but this is not what pushes the character development, what pushes her to "grow up" are the lessons she learns about hard work, sacrifice and caring about others. Sandys and Dennys on the other hand don't change much throughout Many Waters - they exit our story much as they enter it, self sufficient, hard working and caring. What changes in their story is the capacity of sexual and emotional desire they become aware of.

Reading this I got a very different vibe from the rest of the Time books. While this one is no exception to the publisher's rule where it's cover has the words "a companion to a Wrinkle in Time" written across the front, unlike all the other books in the series, I felt that this was the only one that was self sufficient enough to stand on its own. Almost to the point where I wonder if Le'Engle, after having written these books several decades apart, didn't write this as more of an adult novel, knowing like many authors who undertake long IR series (such as Harry Potter), that the original demographic would have grown up by then. After all, there's quite a few things that make this book a questionable choice for the younger set that AWiT was aimed at. Sandy, tied and bound in a tent hears his captors voice and calls her name. When she expresses delight at him recognizing her she thinks it's by her voice and yet we see him say to himself quite clearly "I recognized you by your scent you slut". And earlier on Dennys tells of his afternoon walk through the oasis bazaar and his difficulty in looking at all the faces around him for he knows they're to be drowned. Again, not exactly elementary school stuff.

However, that being said, you'd think a children's book by a Christian author set in biblical times where the village seductress is called a slut would be pretty stuffy when it came to messages on sex and women, but surprisingly it's not. Le'Engle makes a pretty radical move by having some of her characters call the Noah story chauvinistic from the get go, addressing some of the tension head on. And while the story does not drastically alter from that in the bible Le'Engle surprised me by angling the story from a pretty feminine perspective. Yes, two young adolescent boys are the main narrators, and yet most of the story revolves around activities like watering animals and plants, gardening, cooking, caring for the elderly, birthing and marriage - all the things our society typically considers to be feminine. The first place Dennys is taken to that is considered safe and whole in the story is the tent the women use for menstruation, and while there are an equal number of men and women in Noah's tent less time is given to the sons than the daughters. It would have been easy to center this story around the building of the arc, hunting and other masculine activities and yet we spend time in the women's tent and out on rocks under star lit skies where sisters talk about husbands and children.

And the sex. Ah the sex. This isn't your grandma's bible story that's for sure. Or maybe not, but somehow the constant sexual tension of a might-have-been threesome never made it's way into any of MY Baby's First Bible. The message here is not so much one of abstinence as other's have suggested as it is understanding that who you have sex with the first time matters just as much as who you have sex with once you are settled down. The message here isn't "don't do it" it's "don't do it carelessly".

So in the end did I like it more than AWiT? Yes, and no. It's a horse of a different color to be sure. I think as a piece of children's literature I loved, and always will love, AWiT the best. But as a grown up's book Many Waters is a finely crafted and startling re-imagination of Biblical times that belongs right up their with The Red Tent. Highly recommended.
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