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Austin Family Chronicles #4

A Ring of Endless Light

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After a tumultuous year in New York City, the Austins are spending the summer on the small island where their grandfather lives. He’s very sick, and watching his condition deteriorate as the summer passes is almost more than Vicky can bear. To complicate matters, she finds herself as the center of attention for three very different boys.

Zachary Grey, the troubled and reckless boy Vicky met last summer, wants her all to himself as he grieves the loss of his mother. Leo Rodney has been just a friend for years, but the tragic loss of his father causes him to turn to Vicky for comfort—and romance. And then there’s Adam Eddington. Adam is only asking Vicky to help with his research on dolphins. But Adam—and the dolphins—may just be what Vicky needs to get through this heartbreaking summer.

332 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1980

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About the author

Madeleine L'Engle

238 books8,380 followers
Madeleine L'Engle was an American writer best known for her young adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish, and so forth.

"Madeleine was born on November 29th, 1918, and spent her formative years in New York City. Instead of her school work, she found that she would much rather be writing stories, poems and journals for herself, which was reflected in her grades (not the best). However, she was not discouraged.

At age 12, she moved to the French Alps with her parents and went to an English boarding school where, thankfully, her passion for writing continued to grow. She flourished during her high school years back in the United States at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, vacationing with her mother in a rambling old beach cottage on a beautiful stretch of Florida beach.

She went to Smith College and studied English with some wonderful teachers as she read the classics and continued her own creative writing. She graduated with honors and moved into a Greenwich Village apartment in New York. She worked in the theater, where Equity union pay and a flexible schedule afforded her the time to write! She published her first two novels during these years—A Small Rain and Ilsa—before meeting Hugh Franklin, her future husband, when she was an understudy in Anton Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. They married during The Joyous Season.

She had a baby girl and kept on writing, eventually moving to Connecticut to raise the family away from the city in a small dairy farm village with more cows than people. They bought a dead general store, and brought it to life for 9 years. They moved back to the city with three children, and Hugh revitalized his professional acting career. The family has kept the country house, Crosswicks, and continues to spend summers there.

As the years passed and the children grew, Madeleine continued to write and Hugh to act, and they to enjoy each other and life. Madeleine began her association with the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where she has been the librarian and maintained an office for more than thirty years. After Hugh's death in 1986, it was her writing and lecturing that kept her going. She has now lived through the 20th century and into the 21st and has written over 60 books and keeps writing. She enjoys being with her friends, her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren."


Copyright © 2007 Crosswicks, Ltd. (Madeleine L'Engle, President)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 888 reviews
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,577 reviews33.9k followers
July 23, 2016
4.5 stars Re-read for our readalong discussion on Friday 4/24!


My favorite L'Engle book ever, about the formative summer when Vicky Austin's grandfather is dying and she meets a young marine biology student who teaches her to swim with dolphins. I'm not sure any other YA author has ever come close to L'Engle's complex and intelligent story-telling with the Austin family, which is secure in its wisdom that everyday life is dramatic enough without having to invent other-worldly plot devices. Well, except for . :D

To this day, whenever I see dolphins, I think of how L'Engle describes their skin as "resilient pewter." Amazing.
Profile Image for Max.
523 reviews9 followers
August 6, 2020
I first read this book as an early teen--I can see now, reading it as an adult, that having read this book (along with all Madeleine L'Engle's other books) at twelve and thirteen clearly had a profound impact on my world view. L'Engle's writing has a depth and profundity that draws on emotions of which most writers only attempt to scratch the surface.

I think all developing adolescents should read this book and all its accompanying ones, if only to see that there is more out there than either complete surrender to the inanity of life, or conversely, that fantasy does not necessarily mean being out of touch with reality.

I am happy that I left this book on a shelf long enough that coming back to it all these years later meant it was fresh and new while being comfortingly familiar.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews124 followers
March 12, 2015
Battle is over for this book, at any rate.

Before anyone starts throwing stones or even worse missiles, I have to point out that this is not a review, but rather a response. Furthermore, I read this book at the wrong time. Which is NOT code for saying that it's an immature book you could only love if you read it as a child. But really, rather than desiring to avoid abuse, I hate to say why a book that is an abiding favourite for so many friends is one that really didn't work for me.

As a child myself, I read A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and possibly one or two of L'Engle's others, but not many. The Crosswicks Journal books and Walking on Water I read as an adult and loved. These books spoke in a way that felt deeply authentic, and always seemed right, whether she was talking of love and loss, or imperfection and failure, or grace. When the later controversy arose over the extent to which she'd thrown her own family into her fiction without much concern for their feelings, I didn't really know the fiction that might have been involved, so was just confused and saddened to hear about literary and family conflict for a favourite author.

Another thing that had been floating in the back of my head for some years in an unresolved kind of way was what Connie Willis said about L'Engle. (Or at least, I very much hope she said it and I'm not misquoting her!) Even though Willis herself is a believer, she said that Madeleine L'Engle was a Christian apologist before she was a storyteller, and that sometimes that didn't work for a writer. Which just didn't quite make sense, especially after reading Walking on Water and the Crosswicks Journals.

Then came the Book Battle and reading A Ring of Endless Light, and those two disparate things fell into place in my head. Nothing about the book felt true or natural to me. I don't just mean that the family seemed too good to be true, with their musical evenings and extreme intellectual superiority. They did, but in an odd way, as if they were Madeleine L'Engle's idealised version of how she and hers were. It also made very clear to me why there might be a question of her family’s being upset about appearing in her fiction. Vicky's behaviour, in her family and outside it, felt especially unnatural, and the more we were told that she was special, and a poet, the worst it got. (Seeing the poetry did not fix that.) The thing is, though, that it's often possible to put a problem like my one of finding the family to be unbelievable off to an analytical part of your mind, as long as the story is flowing around it smoothly. This one only flowed for me in a very few places.

I’m sure I’d have reacted to the returning characters differently if I’d read the earlier books in the series, so again, I’m acknowledging this is not the usual way to read them. As it was, though, I especially disliked the three-guys-chasing-Vicky plotline, a reaction which included not much liking any of the guys, or, to be honest, Vicky herself. It started to feel as if the author were going for the magic number three (I’ll come back to that) and cherry-picking relationships a “special” girl like Vicky might encounter for purposes of education. Adam: the serious boy who’ll blow hot and cold (except always hot for your usefulness to his scientific pursuits) as he’s tugged between the opposing forces of respect (he’s got YEARS of post-graduate study before he can MARRY and she’s the kind of girl you would only MARRY), guilt (she’s too young AND his friend’s younger sister) and OMG SHE’S SO SPECIAL (the dolphins know it!!). Leo: a classic. The friend who wants more and you don’t want to hurt because you’re nice and you care about him but know you’ll never be interested in that way, but can’t you be friends?? And finally Zachary. Bad boy with the tortured soul extraordinaire. Sexy, sophisticated, handsome, charming (except when he absolutely isn’t, but more on that shortly). In theory, it should have worked really well, having intelligent yet insecure (and never as popular with the boys as her younger sister, ‘natch) Vicky seen as truly attractive and also showing the real distress each of these relationships could cause a caring and compassionate person.

It didn’t come off that way for me, though, and the point at which it really hit me enough to throw me out of story-reading into a detached, what IS this? type of reading was after Zachary nearly hits an old woman crossing the road. Zach’s already brought Vicky out twice, on wonderful outings, taking her to an exclusive country club (although that might be tautological!) with fancy food, a concert she loves, flying, which she also loves, and here’s the significant third time. He picks her up and she has to yell at him to slow down or if he doesn’t, to let her out of the car. He does, but then sees an old woman with a cane crossing the road. He says, “She’s no use to society. Shall I mow her down?” and steps on the accelerator. “He slammed on the brakes, but not before he’d given the old woman – and me – a good fright.” He then says that Vicky knew he wouldn’t hit her, and she replies that with him she never knows, but that’s the end of the incident’s ramifications. She goes on with the day, enjoying the flying enormously, is taken to a fancy French menu (without even a menu, “the ultimate in elegance”), is made to “feel glamorous”, which she likes, and enjoys a “long, slow kiss” while being grateful Zach doesn’t make anything more of it. This is a day spent with someone who started off by accelerating towards an old and not very mobile woman, making her fear he’ll run her down. Just – WHAT??? It’s so utterly inconceivable to me that anyone with any decency would scream at Zach to slow down or let her out when he’s driving too fast on EMPTY roads, but not do the same when he’s purposefully terrified an old woman. Especially as Vicky is presented as a character who’s deeply moral if sometimes struggling to figure out what’s right in some situations.

Suddenly, that number three came back to me. Three guys, the third day’s outing with Zachary – and three temptations. I can’t quite fit the three temptations of Christ in the desert to the three temptations Zachary offers Vicky, but three there are, nonetheless, and it feels much less fairy tale and more scriptural to me. First, he tempts her with luxuries – the good things money and privilege can offer. She enjoys them thoroughly, even though she has gained enough confidence in herself not to be pushed into drinking alcohol when she doesn’t want to. Even Zach’s too speedy driving (of an Alfa Romeo, no less) on an earlier trip both terrifies and “exhilarates” her. Second, he tempts her with the pleasures of the flesh, to use the old-fashioned term. He’s gorgeous, sexy and she really enjoys kissing him, except when thoughts of Adam get in the way. Finally, and most interestingly, she’s tempted by the desire to “save him”. Her grandfather is the one who sees this in her most clearly – or possibly it’s just that she trusts him to understand and not immediately judge Zachary – and his advice is characteristically gentle and wise. But, unfortunately, it’s not until she feels that Zachary lets her down when she needs him that this desire to save him loses its power.

There were many other minor things that bothered me, though some irritated less than they might have because I just gave up and laughed. Of course you all sit around and read Shakespeare at night, and in your world Twelfth Night and The Tempest are as good for a 7-year-old as for the grandfather. I also got a bit of amusement out of thinking of the three guys as the three bears – Zachary too rich, Leo too poor, and Adam just right! (Not that Vicky ever thinks that Leo is too poor, of course, but there’s more than a bit of classism in the book, and it’s telling that when she hopes she can manage to always be friends with Leo it’s because “He was the kind of person, like his mother, who could always be counted on to be there when you needed him.”) Mostly, as well as what I’ve said about the book not feeling natural, it was strange seeing so many events, discussions and even musical preferences that had been described in the Crosswicks Journals turning up again. I have no idea whether the non-fiction was a more a portrait of the person L’Engle wanted to be, and the family she wanted to have than of who she and they actually were, even if I had any desire to make such a judgment about it. Nor am I saying that my odd reading of A Ring of Endless Light as a structure of lessons, or almost homilies, wrapped around plot and characters that weren’t strong enough to hold them together, is anything other than odd. All the same, when I started to write this up, I couldn’t stop thinking about the ending of one of Connie Willis’s books. (I'll put the title behind a spoiler cut.) . A cross is formed by the masts on the ship coming to rescue the protagonist from the most terrifying void of death. Even though it comes from the same place of belief for Willis and L’Engle, that was earned through story in a way that satisfied me as Vicky’s rescue from an emotional void by the dolphins at the end of A Ring of Endless Light utterly failed to do.

Profile Image for Laura.
149 reviews1 follower
July 25, 2016
I read this book in fifth grade, and I loved it so much. I bought it earlier this spring at Borders (I think it was on sale because it’s newbery honor sticker is the wrong color), though I just picked it up.

Vicky Austin goes to her grandfather’s house on Seven Bay Island. Each day, her grandfather only seems to grow weaker from Leukemia. The book begins with the Austin’s family friend Commander Rodney’s funeral. There, she meets her older brother’s friend Adam, who she thinks she likes. She works with him and his dolphins in an ESP project (don’t worry- nothing odd at all).

There are some very, very “life changing” scenes, not to be dramatic, that really jolted me out of my seat while I read this. L’Engle, the wonderful author she was, knows what is real and what isn’t real. She deals with some really tough issues for a children’s book; suicide, death in the family, romance (seemingly not tough), unexpected death, the meaning of existance, etc.

I’ve read some reviews that said this book doesn’t deserve a newbery honor. They said that this book dealt with issues too deep, too dangerous for children. I think the opposite. This book didn’t bother me in fifth grade, and was the perfect introduction to those topics.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,127 reviews104 followers
August 10, 2022
Yes and definitely, I do very much appreciate that in the fourth of the Austin Family novels, that in her 1981 Newbery Honour winning A Ring of Endless Light Madeleine L’Engle does switch her narration once again back to the first person (to Vicky Austin). And while there most certainly is quite a lot of sadness and pain to be textually encountered since in A Ring of Endless Light aside from Commander Rodney's death (and other similar tragedies both human and animal based), the Austins' cherished grandfather is also expected to very soon succumb to a virulent and untreatable form of leukaemia (and with there being nothing that can be medically done to prevent the grandfather from dying or even to extend his life a bit), there equally is textually featured by Madeleine L'Engle in A Ring of Endless Light very much love, tenderness and in my humble opinion really essential lessons about life, death and how to approach and handle the latter without too much devastation. And indeed, that in A Ring of Endless Light all of this potential for never ceasing and constant negativity is narrationally shown and rendered by Madeleine L’Engle’s words, or actually by her narrator Vicky Austin’s words not ever pedantically or awkwardly, but beautifully, gracefully and with delightful feeling and sweetness, with both pain and joyful pleasure (that death is part of life and vice versa and that to be alive also means accepting the end of life, also means coming to terms with death), yes, this has definitely made A Ring of Endless Light sweetly beautiful and heartwarming.

However, and as much as the presented musings from Madeleine L’Engle’s pen regarding in particular life and death have been wonderful (and yes, even the pain and sadness often encountered in A Ring of Endless Light, they have generally been both lovely and thought provoking, and not to mention that the scenarios Vicky encounters with the dolphins are indeed simply textually gorgeous), I truly and really do wish that Madeleine L’Engle had not made Zachary Gray reappear (and in full force so to speak) in A Ring of Endless Light. For in my not so humble opinion, Zachary Gray is absolutely a spoiled rotten rich kid, an entitled and silly brat of an individual I for one do totally hate hate hate, whose presence definitely lessened my reading pleasure in The Moon by Night and whose reappearance in A Ring of Endless Light and with a similarly self indulgent, arrogantly condescending and nasty demeanour and worldview (and that Zachary is also at least partially responsible for Commander Rodney’s fatal heart attack), this most definitely has made my reading pleasure regarding A Ring of Endless Light considerably less, and especially so since Vicky Austin still seems to be taken and almost obsessed with Zachary Gray and is most annoyingly and frustratingly still constantly making all kinds of excuses for him. And well, I guess that part of my textual displeasure is that Madeleine L’Engle keeps featuring Zachary as a character in multiple novels even though I really do oh so very much despise reading about him (and that Zachary Gray later after The Ring of Endless Light also makes an appearance in two of the Polly O'Keefe novels, that he also shows up and makes Polly O’Keefe’s life pretty miserable in both A House Like a Lotus and in An Acceptable Time is personally rather infuriating, as I really do not understand the narrational and thematic reasons why Madeleine L'Engle is doing this and why she has to keep making Zachary Gray a character in four novels from two different series).
Profile Image for Rashika (is tired).
976 reviews712 followers
June 13, 2015
Upon re-read: still one of the best books ever.

(mini-review as a follow up to the read along)

A Ring of Endless Light is one of my all-time favorite books. I first read it many years ago and when I got the opportunity to re-read it, I was terrified. I worried that even though I had loved this book so many years ago, I wouldn’t feel the same way years later. I was wrong. I feel like I need to bang my head on a wall for ever underestimating this book but there it is. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and upon re-reading, I can reaffirm that conviction.

I want to keep this short because I have already fangirled enough to last a while but let me just say that this is such an important coming to age novel. Given that it’s set in the 80s, some parts of it may strike some readers as odd but for me, it is still relatable for the 'modern day' reader.

It deals with common issues teenagers have to deal with growing up but it also deals with bigger issues of life and death.

Vicky is a young girl who, during the particular summer this book is set in, is surrounded by death. What she needs, is to find hope amidst all the death and learn to let go and look at the brighter things in life. She needs to rise from her despair and grow as a person but also cross that awkward bridge between teen and adult. It's so great to experience the journey with her because it is so realistic and so relevant but also Vicky is also just a great female lead. I love that she isn’t perfect and sometimes hides from the truth but she is also just fantastic.

This book also comes with an entourage of great family members and great secondary characters (INCLUDING DOLPHINS).

This is a powerful book and one I will continue to recommend 20-30 years from now because it will still be relevant and will still be important. I just want to shower the book with all the love because it's so special to me. Definitely a book I’d recommend for ALL readers. So you know, check it out?
Profile Image for Bodosika Bodosika.
257 reviews50 followers
September 12, 2016
This is all about dolphins, adolescent life, death and regeneration of limbs in dolphins and the possibilities on human.
Though the narrative was okay,the character descriptions was alright and the story line is some how muddied but I will give this book 2 stars.
243 reviews
March 6, 2012
A Ring of Endless Light takes what could be a beautiful, poignant book with the most saintly of grandfathers and a reverence for the poetic soul, dries it out, overloads it with sentiment, and then beats it over the head with understanding and well-wishing. And that's my polite impression of it.

Honestly, I don't know how anyone can like this book unless they find picture-perfect, saccharine families and neat answers appealing. Vicky is the most understanding and emotionally and psychologically aware 15-year-old girl that I've ever encountered, her vocabulary is way beyond her range (as evidenced by her use of "susurrate"), she talks and interacts with people like a 30-year-old, and after a 5 second conversation with anyone she immediately calms down and deals with whatever massive problem is in front of her with barely a tear or a murmur. She's completely unbelievable and, as she's a bit dry, flat, and completely unbelievable, she's almost unlikeable. I appreciate that L'Engle tried to create a mature teenage girl who has self-respect and can put her foot down, but in doing so she created a dull matron whom I can't relate to as a 24-year-old and would never have been able to relate to as a 15-year-old.

This basic unbelievability permeates the entire book from "plot" to characters. None of the characters were really enjoyable, not even Suzy, who's supposed to be the crazy, out-spoken one. Honestly, her hard-headedness, inability to understand how the world works or how anyone else thinks, and the constant repetition of her being this gorgeous, intelligent blonde was annoying and grating, and I wanted her to shut up. Zachary, the bad boy, was all pre-school philosophy/complete sociopath who has no understanding of death or emotion and whom everyone but Vicky avoids, even when it's obvious that he needs help -- this from a family of ultra empaths? Unbelievable.

Not only were the characters unbelievable, but they were completely flat. This was a book of emotion, and there was no emotion. Zachary brushed everything aside, Leo and his mother mourned Commander Rodney for about a day before just moving on with their lives, Adam and Vicky talk rationally about their attraction and the fact that Vicky is the dolphin whisperer, and the subject of the slowly fading/dying grandfather is neatly shoved into the background after the first 50 pages. Where was the emotion? The conflict? The arguments? The tears? The lack of understanding? The cliched epiphany? SOMETHING? The book just went on, Vicky had a way out in left field crisis (Who just throws their leukemia-afflicted, unconscious, epilepsy-prone daughter at a perfect stranger and tells them to take care of her????), it was solved in 5 pages after her brother and sister say things that are so wrong they're offensive, and then the book ends. Grandfather doesn't even die! WHAT. THE. HELL????

I just have no idea what this book was trying to do. In the beginning, it seemed like it was trying to portray how a family and especially an adolescent deals with the act of their grandfather dying, but that got left to the wayside. Then it's about the different kinds of friendships we can have and learning how to deal with our feelings of attraction, but that got left to the wayside. A weird tangent about interacting with dolphins and developing ESP -- wayside. The poetic mind -- wayside. Depression and suicide -- wayside. Tirades about what a cruel, cruel world we live in and how people are essentially evil (Get over it. Who over the age of 12 doesn't know that already?) -- wayside. Sudden introduction of how awful modern, urban hospitals (especially their emergency rooms) are -- wayside (Also: get the hell over that and appreciate that they're THERE. They're not fun, and they'll never be, but when you don't have a live-in nurse who works from gratis in your giant beach house, you've got to do what you've got to do.). Oh, and the coup de grace -- an attack against creative writing programs, which just burns me up personally.

Was this just the dumping ground for everything L'Engle could possibly think of? Did her mind wander while writing this? Did her editor even read this book? What happened that made this book go so horribly, horribly wrong?

Honestly, I don't want to read any of her other stuff after this, not even A Wrinkle in Time. It just seems that if she has this flat of characterization, this unbelievable of scenario, and this many soupboxes, I'm not going to enjoy anything else that she's written. One book can ruin your reputation.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 58 books746 followers
July 31, 2015
Vicky Austin’s summer is filled with joy and heartbreak. Her family has come to the Island to stay with her grandfather, who’s dying of leukemia. She has three boys vying for her affections, each of whom has his own demons, all of whom look to Vicky for a kind of salvation. She’s trying to find her place in the world at a time when the support of her family isn’t what it used to be, not because they’ve changed, but because she has. And she is introduced to three dolphins with whom she has an unusual connection, who may be the key to her understanding her life and her future. Saying more would just trivialize what I think is a moving, excellent book that has aged very well.

There is something special about the books you read when you’re young; like music, they shape the child you are into the adult you’re going to be. When I was in high school, I read this book almost obsessively. I loved the Austin family, how smart they all were in their different ways and how they loved each other, even Vicky and Suzy (whom I despised, probably because I, too, have a younger and prettier sister everyone always noticed and who was frequently believed to be older than I am despite being SIX YEARS YOUNGER). I loved the dolphins, even though I don’t think it ever made me want to be a marine biologist; Vicky, after all, is a poet and a dreamer and she’s the ones the dolphins connect to, and I was a reader and a writer and that’s who I identified with. I cried at the end, every time, over every death. I felt it was a wise book, one that had something real to say about life and humanity and religion, even if it wasn’t a religion I shared. I enjoyed the rest of the Austin Family novels and how they intersected with the O’Keefe books, but this was my favorite. I was a smart kid who loved books in a family of smart people who didn’t really read, and I wished my family were more like the Austins.

Then I got older, and I found other books, and though I still considered this a favorite, I kept it in memory rather than reading it frequently. It was a good memory, well-cherished.

Then I read it again. And the joy was gone.

I’d never realized that the Austins are too perfect a family, created to be an ideal you either aspire to or feel intimidated by. (Seriously, who says “Let’s have family reading time in the evenings” and picks Shakespeare for a seven-year-old boy?) They’re all really intelligent and well-read, they’re spiritually minded, they’re all good at what they do—except for Vicky, and it turns out she is good at what she does, but her gifts are exceptional in a less flashy way. They live in a super-cool house that used to be a barn instead of somewhere mundane. Their grandfather looks wise, but it’s a superficial wisdom; there’s a part where they mention how popular his sermons were when he preached in a giant congregation, and I couldn’t help thinking that it was probably because he handed out comforting platitudes that didn’t challenge anyone’s faith or security. I also noticed that there’s never a mention of what denomination he is, which L’engle possibly intended so as not to tilt the narrative toward one faith and put off some readers, but struck me instead as hedging her bets. (And he’s selfless and stuff like that, which struck me as one more idealization. It didn’t help that my Presbyterian minister grandfather really was what this character aspired to be, while still remaining incredibly human.) I was embarrassed that I’d ever wished my family were more like them, or more accurately, that I’d ever resented my family for not being like them.

And yet there are still things about this book that ring true to me. Vicky’s insecurities and confusion seem very real. She struggles with understanding the impending death of her grandfather, bears the burden of three young men all demanding support from her, and is a little lost in her family of scientific geniuses. I’m not a poet, so I have no idea how mature or immature her poetry is, but it seems a natural way for someone to express those struggles of adolescence. And my concerns about idealization aside, Vicky also relates naturally to her siblings, if there’s a little less conflict than I’d expect (coming from a very large family). Even now I can see how that struck me as real, as a teen.

(Side comment: What parents let their fifteen-year-old daughter date a twenty-year-old man? I never realized it, since Zachary behaves like a kid, but he’s twenty, and while a five-year age difference is nothing when it’s twenty-five and thirty, there is a world of difference between a high schooler and someone who’s past that stage and moving into full adulthood. Ditto Adam, who’s nineteen; I loved him, though he’s got problems of his own, but he’s got adult responsibilities and Vicky really doesn’t, and shouldn’t. Though I give Adam credit for at least realizing there’s a gap between them, even if he fumbles around not knowing what to do about it. Maybe I needed to be a parent to really understand this aspect of the book.)

I dislike talking about changing opinions of books in terms like “outgrown” or “moved beyond.” It implies that the changes in our characters that happen over time are invariably positive, as if wisdom is something conferred on us solely by the passing of years. What I’ve learned in re-reading this book some thirty years after my teenage experience with it is that my younger self found meaning in it that related to what I was living at the time. Vicky’s grandfather’s wisdom may be only platitudes, but I turned them into something meaningful that I think made me a better person. The science in the book may be inaccurate, shaped by L’engle to fit the mystical fantasy of her other books, but it got me interested in reading actual science. And those things turned me into the person who can look at the book from this much later perspective and think not in terms of its flaws, but of who I am that I now see the book in a different light.

So, having said all this, how can I still say A Ring of Endless Light is a moving, excellent book? Because beneath everything, whether I accept my younger self’s experience or my older self’s new reading, I sense Madeleine L’engle’s beliefs about life and how we live it. If she idealizes the Austins, it’s out of love, or a wish that this is the way the world ought to be, and there’s nothing wrong with her wishing that even if I don’t share her feelings (and have reservations about whether writers “should” approach fiction in this way, and further reservations about whether I “should” make that demand of them). I’m probably not coming back to this book again. But I don’t regret having read it.
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,903 reviews199 followers
October 16, 2020
The title references a 1650 poem by Henry Vaughn, “The World,” that envisions all eternity as “a great ring of pure and endless light,” and urges humankind to choose the divine light instead of the earthly darkness. The title is totally appropriate as we see 15-year-old Vicky Austen struggle between optimism and devastating nihilism.

The Austens are spending the summer at Seven Bay Island since Mrs. Austen’s father, Reverend Eaton, is dying of leukemia. Throughout the summer, Vicky witnesses plenty of tragedy, sickness, death, plain bad luck; it shakes her to the core. I loved this book much more than I thought I would because author Madeleine L’Engle, although herself religious, doesn’t script this book as a pollyannish polemic on God’s behalf. Good things happen to bad people — just as in real life. The unjust get lucky — just as in real life. And that realization can be devastating. L’Engle does an amazing job in examining the eternal battle of light and dark in this world. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Cindy.
Author 4 books317 followers
December 21, 2020
It's been years since I read this, and although I always tell kids it's my favorite book when they ask (I've learned you HAVE to have a favorite book when you write for middle graders because they ALWAYS want to know!), part of me had wondered if I would still feel that way after a reread. The answer is: I feel it more than ever. It's the most perfect book ever written as far as I'm concerned. I finished it in tears, my soul filled.

An interesting and unexpected thing about this reread is realizing how many elements from this book unconsciously made their way into THE STARS OF WHISTLING RIDGE, my 2021 book. I really had no idea!
1 review
March 9, 2007
In my youth I was on a L'engle tear having gone through the "Time" series...however I didn't get the memo that L'engle's writing ministry developed into one catered towards guiding pre-adolescent females through their awkward years.

Needless to say, I caught on when I realized that the books really weren't speaking to me like the others were...and I quietly returned this one back to the library and saw that I was the only dude to read the book for the past decade...

A good read nonetheless!
Profile Image for Jenny.
924 reviews89 followers
June 20, 2021
I love this book! L'Engle is amazing, and her themes provoke thought and emotion. I wish I could write with the same eloquence and depth that she writes with.
Again, I love this book. It's hard to believe I read it four years ago already, and I didn't realize I was reading it around the same time that I read it the first time. God knew I needed to read this book again. Sometimes, I forget that life is about LIFE, which for me is God, and that means living in the moment but also enjoying and appreciating everything. It's easy to get wrapped up in the monotonies of everyday life, and seeing the "little altars everywhere" isn't always easy. L'Engle's works generally convey the beauty in the everyday, but A Ring of Endless Light in particular reminds me that life really is beautiful, that light is beautiful, and that even when there are sad things happening around us or things too complex for us to understand, Life and Light (God) are there, helping us to live and to see more deeply than we ever could on our own. I love this book and the way it makes me feel, what it reminds me of, and what it makes me think about.
There’s not really anything I can add to what I said above. I still love this book, and I needed to read it again, and I’m sure I will need to AGAIN in a year or two. The Bible is my favorite book with all its layers and depth of meaning and comfort and challenges. There are very few fiction books that can help me in a similar way to the Bible, and this is one of them. It’s because it’s so real. The content maybe not so much (and this time, I really felt how old-fashioned and out of date this book is, maybe because I’m also reading I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, a VERY different YA novel also from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl), but the themes are consistent with the important things in life. I just turned 32 and STILL identify with “not quite 16” year old Vicky. And, after reading my second review of this book, the most important thing I took away this time is joy. Joy is deeper than happiness because it’s a pleasure in where you are now and a comfort in the knowledge that it doesn’t end when this ends. There is more to come even though we don’t know how to define that “more.” There’s also the same alignment of faith and science that I first discovered in L’Engle and that drew me into science and that David Almond explores in Skellig.
Clearly, I will continue to recommend this book, probably my favorite of all those I’ve read by L’Engle, and that’s saying a lot!
Another reread. I still love this book, so there isn't much more to add. This time, it really hit me how much L'Engle uses Leo, Adam, and Zachary to change Vicky, sometimes too much because I want Vicky to grow and change on her own, but it works. I don't like that the book ends with because it doesn't really connect to everything in the book the way I'd want an ending to, but I love the few pages that lead up to the last one.
The only other thing that really bothered me this reread is the way John and Suzy talk to Vicky, especially at the end after what she went through. It's so mean and selfish and condescending, especially John. But I think all the siblings have this really weird relationship where they're super mean to each other and barely show love for each other except Vicky and Rob. I'm sure that's accurate for many siblings, but it wasn't my experience, and I wish the kids were nicer to each other. Anyway, there are good scenes with Vicky and John, at least, and I guess I just don't really like Suzy.
Overall, I read this at the perfect time, once again, and the book still makes me stop to think, dog ear even more pages, and cry with my chest filled with happiness, joy, sadness, "a ring of pure and endless light" that "dazzles the darkness."
Profile Image for Diana Maria.
183 reviews64 followers
July 29, 2020
Oh! Precious book which dazzles me with joy and beauty every time I read it!

I have never imagined (certainly not after my first reading) that I would cry of joy and sorrow for the light, and the beauty and the pain of growing, of maturing, of understanding, of grasping a little of the majesty of living and acknowledging the wonderful pattern that God is so exquisitely knitting.
After my first reading I had all kind of mixed feelings I did not appreciate it too much, but now, after my fourth reading, and after reading some of Madeleine L'Engle's nonfiction books, I was better able to see the beauty and the light. I cried because of all the beauty I read about in all of the books by her I have ever read so far.

I have had similar experiences with Vicky's, and I would be glad to say in some instances that I am very much like her, but nah, as Madeleine L'Engle herself put it, referring to Vicky and Polly, "they're all wiser than I am." This story shows a more mature, more confident, sometimes confused, Vicky which made all the Zachary moments more bearable because of how she responds to him and to everything he says or does. Sometimes the story hits you bright, and beautiful and serene, and sometimes bogs you down with musings on death, and not believing, and doubting and refusing to acknowledge God's love, great love, and the wonderful way He made everything, everything right, even if we don't always want to see it that way, self-righteous as we are, "the light being too heavy to bear" (all this comes from the scenes with Zachary as the "main" character). We are just so replete with ourselves, thinking of how much we suffer, or we kid ourselves into thinking we do, being "megalomaniac", to quote John, we focus so much on a single piece of the puzzle and we miss the bigger picture, something I remember uncle Douglas telling Vicky in The Moon by Night, book II of the series. And I am so, so, so glad that she at last realises this and let's the light be stronger than dark!!
I so much loved family time and dolphins time and Jeb time and Adam time which is why I would read the book over and over and over again if my shelves and Kindle were not filled with other excellent books crying to be read (nah!! every time after I finish it I want to pick it up again so it's more a business of reigning myself in so that I won't dive head first into it again).
A favourite for sure!✨🐬
8 reviews
December 20, 2009
I had to read Meet the Austins and The Moon by Night, the first two Austin Family novels, in eighth grade. While I didn't like Meet the Austins as it read like a juvenile fiction book, I fell in love with The Moon by Night and the book's heroine, Vicky Austin. I reread the book so many times, the pages are coming out.

Surprisingly, I never picked up A Ring of Endless Light until college. My sister read it for school and told me that it was a fellow Vicky Austin novel and was surprised I had not yet read it. I have since reread A Ring of Endless Light many times and find myself always crying at the end.

The charm of A Ring of Endless Light and The Moon by Night is Vicky Austin's intense vulnerability. She is fifteen in A Ring of Endless Light and unsure of herself. She does not consider herself pretty because she is not like her sister Suzy, the outgoing blonde. She surprises herself when, in A Ring of Endless Light, she finds herself competing for the attention of her former fling Zachary and the kind-hearted Adam. Adam is gentle and patient and opens Vicky's world to the love of dolphins as she helps him "hear" their voices. Zachary is inconsiderate and the token bad boy, but Vicky finds him appealing. We yearn with Vicky as she suffers from her Grandfather's death and cry with her as she comes in contact with death yet again in her young life. She carries the novel with her vulnerability and makes her one of the most believable and compassionate characters in literature.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
255 reviews110 followers
August 10, 2012
First of all, the science in A Ring of Endless Light is WAY off - dolphins are vicious little bastards. I laughed out loud when Vicky said that you never hear about dolphins' inhumanity to dolphins. Are you kidding me? Someone spent too much time daydreaming about her Trapper Keeper.

That being said, I still love this book. Vicky is wrestling with the problem of evil, particularly in terms of death, and she's also learning about burdens and what a person should or should not ask another person to do for them. L'Engle does a great job of capturing Vicky's voice, and I empathize with her strongly.

This book gets minus one billion billion stars for Zachary Gray - but plus a billion billion for Adam Eddington. So it evens out. But Zachary is at his absolute worst in this book. He tries to kill himself, and his rescuer dies; even after this experience, he continues to flirt with death, putting Vicky at tremendous risk on multiple occasions and frightening a little old lady twice; he tries to force himself on Vicky, justifying his behavior with, "And don't tell me I don't turn you on, because I know I do"; and lastly, he abandons Vicky when she needs help. What a complete and utter heel.

Fortunately, Vicky has Adam, and so do we, the readers. And by the end of the book, Vicky seems to have finally realized what a little twerp Zachary is. How can you know Adam and still want to even look at Zachary? Ugh. I don't care how good-looking he is, the guy's a slimeball.
Profile Image for Mireille Duval.
1,310 reviews80 followers
June 2, 2016
Excerpt from my book battle review:

I’m sorry. I know a lot of people love A Ring of Endless Light. And I don’t want to spend 500 words talking about all the things I didn’t like about it. But honestly, apart from one single element (“Vicky called me and I came.”), I didn’t like anything about it. It was incredibly depressing, with an added layer of morality that I didn’t care for. And not just depressing like “being a teenager is hard”, but filled with an unrealistic amount of death and drama. I hated Zachary and couldn’t understand what he was doing in the book, and the fact that Vicky didn’t just throw him to the curb made me like her much less. I didn’t like Leo, either, and was only very meh about Adam. I thought the family setting was good – I liked the house in the stables, and the whole family together with Grandfather – but even that got a little too much (the singing every night? the many discussions about religion?). And the dolphins were lovely. But yeah, I had zero fun reading this and would have stopped a quarter into it if I didn’t feel like I had to keep going for the battle.
Profile Image for Nicholas Kotar.
Author 38 books253 followers
February 8, 2014
I missed this book growing up, preferring L'Engle's more adventurous fantasies. It's too bad, because I'm sure I would have loved it growing up. I picked this lovely gem of a book up in the library last year in the kids section, during a kind of "pilgrimage" to my local library, where I hadn't been in over ten years. I used to go there every week when I was a kid. I read it in one sitting.

It doesn't have the heart-stopping action of A Wrinkle in Time or the fantastic settings of A Wind in the Door, but it's a much more mature, thoughtful book. It's a book that deals with death, burgeoning love, growing up, in ways that are neither condescending to teens nor pandering to today's strange wave of sexualized teen literature. As a result, you have a complex main character who is interesting without being obnoxious, who still finds it in her heart to respect her parents without it compromising her identity, who finds unexpected solace in giving comfort to a dying relative. The end of this book is just heartbreaking, and yet it's beautiful.

A wonderful antidote to today's YA trash.
Profile Image for D.
1,420 reviews34 followers
March 1, 2022
L'Engle seems to achieve that which Stephenie Meyer is, as yet, technically unable: a respectful, plausible narration of square pegs, alienated dreamers, and teens wiser than their years finding authentic connection. L'Engle's form is by no means flawless, but Meyer and others would do well to follow her lead and learn to show their protagonists' extraordinariness, not dictate, begging us to believe.

*** my notes *** (vaguely spoilery)
Leo represents maternal love: she feels the need to care for him.he adores her, and she is not attracted to him, though she thinks he's sweet. 

Adam represents intellectual desire: she feels adult around him. she admires him and wants him to admire her and is upset when she thinks he doesn't. 

Zachary represents sexual desire: she feels urges and fear around him.he wants her but doesn't demonstrate stable respect for her. she's intrigued but scared. she wants but doesn't really like him. 
Profile Image for Leslie.
Author 27 books1,300 followers
October 3, 2018
This is my favorite book ever. Or one of them, at least
Profile Image for Allison.
748 reviews11 followers
August 25, 2010
So this is my favorite Madeleine L'Engle book of them all, and I like to reread it every summer. (I didn't reread in 2009, so this is the first time in two years.) It's a Newbery Honor book, which I didn't even realize until this year -- this is the first year I've ever really looked at that medal on the cover and thought about it.

Even though A Wrinkle in Time is probably the best written of her children's books, I've always liked Vicky better, and I've always found Adam to be the more crush-worthy guy. They are much less epic than Meg and Calvin -- except, of course, when they aren't.

It holds up as well as it always has, but every time I read I find new things, new meanings, new confirmations that we are here and what we do matters.
Profile Image for Emily Allen.
70 reviews
April 15, 2012
I had a hard time believing the characters, their actions, and conversations. Also Vicky basicly having three boyfriends at once really bugged me.
Profile Image for Pili.
1,164 reviews216 followers
April 30, 2015
I finished reading this one on my last night shift at work and holy hell, was that a bad choice... If you’re wondering why it was a bad choice for me to read this one at work? Well, I was feeling pretty down with all the death and with Vicky’s reaction to it all and did I mention all the death and accidents? A real bummer to go and try to smile at my patients while I wake them at 6 am for meds and blood tests.

Well, I give this one 4 stars, even if I have some serious issues with some parts of the book, but Vicky being a rather wonderful almost 16 year old girl, that felt realistic and rather sensible even being a dreamer and poet and one that didn’t feel like she had to do or give in or feel guilty-ed (not a word, I know, forgive me, I slept lil today!) into doing what any of the boys would want her to do, from Zachary pushing her (for goodness sake, HE’S BLOODY 20!?!), to Leo wanting to be more than she wanted and Vicky being very clear that she just wanted to be friends, and Adam… Adam pushing her away and also needing her and Vicky being mature enough to know she what she wanted but also respecting the boundaries as long as she was treated as someone mature enough to talk to and not a child to be condescending. I was very glad to see that Vicky was more into thinking than simply swooning…

But what really made me give this book the 4 stars was the dolphins! All the dolphin interactions, the swimming, the mind-melding/telepathy with them, Norberta, Basil, baby dolphin… and everything about them really! I adore every interaction, every way in which dolphins are shown as interesting and intelligent creatures with perhaps a different intelligence & understanding from ours. I just couldn’t help but hum “So long and thanks for all the fish” sometimes in my head, and my Hitchhikers fangirl was squaling a bit at all the dolphin-ness. I need to go swimming with dolphins somehow, it’s always been on the bucket list, but boy have I been reminded of HOW MUCH I WANT TO!!

The dolphins also bring me to another favourite part of the book, because I loved how characters discuss and talk about why’s, how’s and science and philosophy and how to figure out your questions about life, the universe and everything (sorry, had to do it, again) and how to figure out yourself. Vicky’s demands of being treated like mature enough would have been rather more annoying if her main demand was caused because she wanted to be treated as someone that can talk about complex issues and will bother to learn and understand and be open enough to new ideas, not just as “someone old enough to kiss” which unfortunately is more the focus on more recent YA’s.

I really liked the Austins, even if I felt some of the Bible talk and quoting and discussions about God felt a lil preachy at times for me, but never too much to make me want to stop reading, only a bit of frowning now and then. And they were what I call the good kind of Christians, if you allow me to use that qualifier. They are kind, inclusive, eager to talk and learn and to help people and not think they are better than others or have all the answers. A bit preachy or not, they’re a family I probably wouldn’t mind spending time with, if I can duck having St Agustin quoted at me! ;)

Going back to the three boys… if this would have been another book I would have totally said “hell no!” but it was done so very well! More in a way of exploring friendships and attraction and relationships, and not simple indecision back and forth of declarations of love. Vicky is clear with them all and the boys are more or less clear too. And quite frankly, the only one actively trying to woo her and taking her on dates is Zachary, since Leo and her seem to be hanging out as friends mostly, even if he tries to push the boundaries and Vicky is clear and upfront with him all the time. And Adam… well, he’s the one with the most genuine connection and that spend more time with Vicky talking and interacting with the least “date” scenario, and he ends up being the best option, even with the age difference. I was shocked and rather appalled when Zachary was revealed to be 20!! O_o I felt bad about Zachary but I was bothered that he was made such a “broken bad boy” cliché. And that the non-Christian option was represented so cartoony, and with the most shallow characters, like Zachary and his dad.

And last but clearly not least given the importance and how overwhelmingly present the theme was all over the book: death. It made me wonder if the author had suffered some loss recently when she was writing? Because sometimes it felt like a way for her to go through the stages of grief and how to get yourself together! I feel like the illness and clearly upcoming death of Grandfather and the dolphin baby would have been rather enough, but there’s so much of it! Yes, I know quite well that life can suck like that sometimes, but oh boy! The way Grandfather’s illness progression and treatment and deterioration and how that affects the family as a whole and each one of the differently was done brilliantly, and that would have been more than message enough, I feel. Some of the added deaths felt a bit like kicking us in the gut when we were already down, you know? I am someone used to death surrounding her and it took me a while to kick the gloominess after finishing the book!

Still, this is a very recommended book for teens to try and make them stop and think about life, and for adults too, because we all might need a reminder now and then. And dolphins make everything better!
Profile Image for Renata.
2,505 reviews338 followers
June 6, 2022
I read and lovedddd this as a kid. In my memory it was mainly a book about psychically communicating with dolphins? I forgot about all the really lovely grief stuff, and I definitely forgot about the sub-lovely love square between a 15-year-old girl and 20-, 19-, and 17-year old boys?? oh well it was the 80s, what can you do.

Profile Image for Melody.
2,629 reviews262 followers
March 26, 2011
Departing from my formulaic L'Engle review here to say this book is one of my all-time favorites. There's so much going on, and so much grave and serious beauty, that if there are clunky bits, I never saw them.

I also never noticed, until this read, that L'Engle was a fan of Saint-Exupéry's flying books- one of which, Wind, Sand and Stars, is one of my desert island books. I think I was too caught up in the Vicky/Zachary drama to notice the pilot talking at the airport.

I love the last bit at the hospital, where Binnie/Robin dies and Vicky goes into a fugue state, I think it captures the moment exceptionally well. Having been in a similar situation, without a pod of dolphins to bring me back after, I recognised the bleakness and the darkness.

The casual erudition of all the adolescent characters in ML'E's works is a little bit laughable - but as a bright kid, I found hope there. So I can't mock too much since I drew so much comfort in thinking that there were other serious, thinking kids somewhere. If only fictional ones.

I love this book, with its unflinching attention to death and decay. I love its deep and dazzling darkness, its solemnity and sanctity. I love, of course, the conviction at the root of it that every life matters, every breath counts.

And, yes, I love Zachary with his grandstanding and his deathwish, his inability to adjust to his own adolescence, his helpless attraction to the Austins and their loving lifestyle, and his knee-jerk denying of said attraction. Adam is easy to love in the same way the Austins are easy to love, and the Rodneys. Zachary is not so easy to love, but L'Engle wants us to see that he's worthy of loving, just as worthy as the rest- in fact, she goes out of her way to make that point, I think.

This is one of my favorite of all L'Engle's works, and probably the one I've read the most. And I think the only book I ever stole. Now, in the spirit of L'Engle's honesty and transparency, I will confess that I told my childhood library I lost this book in 1981 and paid for the losing of it. It was never lost, it's right here. I could have bought my own copy from a bookstore, but this is the one with the magic in it.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
317 reviews
October 22, 2009
I've been going through a pile of books that I've been given to see if they are worth keeping. Most aren't worth commenting about...this book on the other hand left me a bit perplexed about how well I liked it.

The back of the book and the first few chapters it seemed like a realistic fiction coming of age/teen romance (yuck-in my opinion). I was irritated about the 3 boys interested in the 15 year old girl. And I felt that she had to make too many decisions about intimacy that I think girls of 15 shouldn't have to make. (Of course in this world that we live in, it is probably more realistic than I would care to admit.) However, she does make wise choices and for the right reasons.

On the other hand I was impressed by all of the truth thrown into the conversations. "Prayer is an act of love." How important it is to meditate-in the sense of time alone to just be. The discussions about living and dying were very poignant. And I absolutely loved the family. A mother and a father who love each other and show their kids that love, kids who love each other even with sibling rivalry. They seemed so real and so realistic. And I love the ocean and the dolphins.

I was surprised to learn that it is not realistic fiction and that it is one book in a series. I wonder if my impressions would have been different if I had read this book as a teenager around the same time as I read a Wrinkle in Time.
Profile Image for Amanda.
8 reviews
January 6, 2009
I LOVE this book it is amazing! i've read this book about 5 times and i'm still not sick of it.it's about a girl named vicky who falls for a guy named adam. he doesn't really think she's all that special until he realizes she can communicate w/ dolphins! Then it becomes a battle for her heart because 3 guys are interested in her. Lessons you can learn from this book is to not take life and your friends and family for granted because no one has them forever. Also, it teaches you how to figure yourself out and know what you waant before you can find true love.:)
11 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2018
This realistic fiction book follows the life of a teenaged girl as she deals with the struggles of growing up. You would like this book if you like coming of age stories. The theme of A Ring of Endless Light is that life, though hard at times, is easier when family is there to help.
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