The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle

A summer job turns into a game of strategy with potentially deadly consequences for a young aspiring scientist hoping to learn more about the implications of the regenerative powers of starfish.

Of course I had to read a L’Engle as soon as humanly possible, and I wanted to read one I hadn’t read before. I was unaware that The Arm of the Starfish featured some of the characters from the Wrinkle in Time books, most notably, Polyhymnia O’Keefe from An Acceptable Time. I believe I never read it when I was a kid because of the awful cover. The one it has now isn’t much better, but the old one really didn’t make it look like a book I wanted to read.

My loss for being such a snob. The Arm of the Starfish is a great thriller that deals with ethical concepts that are just as relevant today as they were when the book was first published. L’Engle clearly adores science, but isn’t afraid to raise tough questions about the moral implications of scientific research. It’s not that she thinks that science need limit itself out of fears of playing God; rather, she understands that nothing that humans do can be without human impact, and therefore subject to moral choices. It’s not enough to acknowledge that there are gray areas in life. It’s our duty to dive into the middle of them, wrestle with tough issues, and, having done so, make hard choices and live with them. She has no patience for equivocators and fence-sitters, though she has endless patience for seekers and questioners.

I’m making this book sound awfully deep, which of course it is. And of course it’s also a book I would’ve loved had I read it when I was 9, possibly even more than I do now. After all, L’Engle once famously said, “”If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.” This is why my soul was fed as a child, reading L’Engle and CS Lewis and Jean Craighead George and Edward Eager and LM Montgomery and Ellen Raskin and all the other authors I’m stockpiling for Superfast Baby. If I were 20 years younger then JK Rowling would be on that list, because she’s definitely on the shelf. I read a lot of children’s literature and YA for work and there is just so much garbage out there, from people who think that reading is just about sounding out words on a page. Of course it isn’t, not by a long shot.

10 thoughts on “The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle”

  1. I am hoping that someone will compile a “Works of Madeleine L’Engle” or maybe republish most of her work in some sort of cohesive manner, just so that her books can become more accessible to people

  2. Such a good book!!! I want to go live on that island with the O’Keefes. I love her stories about how Joshua just “showed up” as she was writing the section in Portugal … she had no idea who he was, or why he was in the hotel room … but there he was, and she just followed along, to see what he would do.

    Now that’s a writer who trusts inspiration.

    Because isn’t he such a wonderful complex character?

  3. I would totally buy a “collected works” set.

    Sheila–I didn’t know that was who she was talking about in Walking on Water–I love that story, too! And Joshua is one of her most inspired creations.

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