“The sun was warm but the wind was chill. / You know how it is with an April day”

So my L’Engle rereading led me next to An Acceptable Time, just because it felt like the book to read next. I remembered reading this one when it came out, and feeling, after several books that didn’t quite work for me, that this book felt like it was getting back to the essence of what L’Engle’s books were for me.

This time … well, this time I read it immediately after The Arm of the Starfish, which meant I went from the first Poly/Polly O’Keefe book (in which she’s 12) to the last one (in which she’s 16). So instead I felt like a character I loved had been replaced by a pod person. By someone else with (almost) the same name and same appearance and the same familial relations as the fierce, bright girl I’d come to love in The Arm of the Starfish who was, nonetheless, someone else entirely.

And if I hadn’t just read The Arm of the Starfish, I probably would have liked the girl named Polly O’Keefe in An Acceptable Time just fine. She’s still smart, still cares about those around her, and if she’s less welcoming of wonder and mystery than her younger namesake, well, not all characters do welcome wonder and mystery, and this older Polly does rise to them well enough in the end, as protagonists do. Perhaps it’s even just as well, since the grandparents she’s staying with–Meg Murry’s parents–seem also to have been replaced by pod characters who instinctively flinch from mystery, and who one has trouble believing are the sort of people who would ever have, say, let their son go out alone into the night because someone laid an incomprehensible charge on him to save the world.

But I had just read The Arm of the Starfish, and so I spent my entire reading of this book missing the Poly of that one and looking for pieces of her that just weren’t there, because we change a lot from 12 to 16, but our teen selves tend to nonetheless contain pieces of the children we were, and those children-we-were keep informing our lives.

I find myself wondering how The Arm of the Starfish would read to someone who’d read An Acceptable Time First, and which Polly would seem true to that reader. I find myself thinking about pod people in fiction in general, and how it’s always a challenge, when revisiting a character, to write the same person, because while the character is old, the book is new, and every new book makes new demands, and we change as writers from book to book, too.

Maybe I’ll give this one another try in a few years, when I haven’t been re-immersing myself in L’Engle books and can so see it on its own.

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