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I have read several Madeleine L’Engle books this year, but mostly her lesser known fiction or non-fiction that has been out of print and is now only available in ebook formats. I still have a couple of her young adult books that I have never read, including most of the O’Keefe family series.
The Arm of the Starfish is the first of the O’Keefe family series (Calvin and Meg from the Wrinkle in Time series are married and the focus is primarily on Polly their daughter.) I had some insight into the family because the main focus on this book is Adam Eddington, who is also a character (set a summer later) in the Austin Family series book A Ring of Endless Light.
Because I have read A Ring of Endless Light, I knew some of the results of the Arm of the Starfish but not the main story. The Arm of the Starfish is set as a young adult spy thriller. Adam is a young college biology major (he graduated from high school early and is only 17.) He has been encouraged to apply for a job with Dr O’Keefe that is on an island off the coast of Spain working with starfish and regeneration.
Starting early, Adam is not quite sure who to trust because of a vague warning from a beautiful girl while waiting for an airplane. That starts a sort of young adult spy thriller. There is a kidnapping, some gun play, document drops, secret science, coded messages and double crosses.
While the basic story is fine, it is not one of L’Engle’s best books and the timelines and personalities for the overlapping characters from other books don’t quite add up. Adam feels older than 17 (probably 19-20). Poly, except for being repeatedly reminded that she has not physically developed into a woman yet, feels older than 12. Meg (always referred to as Mrs O’Keefe) has basically no real role in the book other than mother, even though we know she has a PhD of her own in mathematics. Her personality from the Wrinkle in Time series is basically missing. Calvin (Dr O’Keefe) seems relatively similar to his character from the Wrinkle series.
The spy craft is weak, although I had just finished reading a John le Carré novel. L’Engle did get some of the feel of the ethical dilemmas associated with spy craft right.
In the end this is a young adult novel. I wanted the characters to grow up a bit, but they were supposed to be young. It is definitely from an earlier era where teens were allowed to travel on their own and, while not always comfortable being on their own, were expected to be able to find their way through international airports and through customs and in foreign cities. Reading L’Engle always reminds me we live in a different era.
It not one of my favorite L’Engle books, but certainly not a bad young adult book.
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