Mark Terry

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Young Unicorns

August 17, 2009
For reasons unknown to me, I've been thinking of books that meant a lot to me as a kid. Not way back, like Dr. Seuss, but junior high and high school. So I thought I'd spend a couple days telling y'all about a few of them.

by Madeleine L'Engle

I was a huge fan of L'Engle (whose name I had no idea how to pronounce). I loved A Wrinkle in Time and what was then a trilogy, although I think it's 4 or 5 books now. I enjoyed the books with the Austin family, of which apparently The Young Unicorns is the third, although I do have to say, each book is weirdly different. L'Engle always flirted with science fiction and fantasy, and the first Austin book, Meet The Austins, wasn't even vaguely SF or fantasy, but The Arm of the Starfish definitely had some SF leanings, given as it did to discussions of research using starfish's regenerative powers (or the regenerative powers of starfish, if you want to make that sentence lose some of its awkwardness).

Anyway, The Young Unicorns takes us to New York City where the Austins are living while their father works on a research project. They're sharing a house with a young blind piano prodigy. Into their lives comes a variety of folks, including her teacher, Mr. Theotocopolous (a name that's meant so much to me I've been stealing it for years in my own fiction), David, a former gang member, etc.

Okay, plot synopsis, as much as possible. Something weird is going on with the Archbishop. Canon Tallis, a quasi investigator for the Catholic Church, shows up to quasi-investigate. Members of a NYC gang, the Alphabats, are acting weird. The Archbishop is using an experimental laser that can stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain without cutting through skin or bone to get the Alphabats to do his bidding, everything spins out of control...

It's an almost impossible book to summarize, and reading the Amazon summary was practically worthless and the Wikipedia summary makes it sounds bizarre, which I suppose it is.

I can see where this book was a foundation for a lot of my interests in books, a sort of thriller-ish book overlaid on a family story with elements of crime fiction mixed with religion, science, and music. It resonated with me then and it still does. Maybe I should re-read it.

How about you? Any books from your early years that won't leave you alone?

Mark Terry


Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I've been curious to read old childhood friends, too. I've been wanting to read the Little House series again, and especially Narnia. Oh gosh, I loved Narnia. And then Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series was just absolutely wonderful. Yes, that's the one I need to read again. Maybe not. I'm a little afraid I'd love it so much, that I'd want to write it, LOL!

8:26 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I know. I'd hate to read it as an adult and go, "What a load of crap."

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

One such book that I recently reread and found as amazing as ever is Walter Miller's A Canticle For Leibowitz about the preservation of knowledge (or the attempt to preserve it) and the re-emergence of civilization following a nuclear war. Although it is hardly aimed at kids, I read it in my early teens and it made a huge impression, even if I didn't pick up on everything it was saying.

It deals with so many themes that I find fascinating and important. The nature of history, for example. How unreliable our records are and how history is quickly transmuted into misconception and myth. And it also rather poignantly shows how ignorance, so often coupled with violence, is at odds with knowledge and progress, or simply co-opts knowledge for its own selfish ends. Heartbreaking as much of the book is there's also a great deal of humor and irony. Of course, a friend of mine remarked that it put him to sleep so efficiently he never finished it!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I too find history fascinating, largely because so much of our early education seems to be more mythology than fact.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Alan Orloff said...

My Side of the Mountain.

I absolutely loved that book. I mean, who wouldn't want to be that kid, living on his own in the woods? Awesome!

12:39 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I loved that book and was surprised when both my sons read it in elementary school and hated it. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be forced to read a book.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Christine said...

Actually, THE YOUNG UNICORNS was one that has stuck with me for a long time, too. I was fascinated by how well L'Engle was able to mix real places and things with a near future sci-fi/fantasy that ended up being totally believable to me.

For whatever reason, even though it's the kind of book my daughter would normally just eat up, she has not been able to finish the book. I haven't read it as an adult yet.

One I have read, both at age 15 and recently, was ANTHEM, by Ayn Rand. It's short and sweet, and can be read in just an hour or two, but it's a fascinating take on communism vs. individualism.

Rereading it as an adult, its message was not as powerful as it had been for me before, but my 15-year old picked it up, and read it cover to cover in one sitting. I think she can see that message I was so enthralled by at her age.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

My son was looking over my shoulder as I got your e-mail. I said, "Didn't you read Anthem?"

"Yeah. It's a really dull, boring, confusing book."

Oh well. He likes Harry Dresden, though.

12:46 PM  

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