4.7/5 Barnes & Noble
Publication date 1980
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Followed by Troubling a Star
Country United States
Series Austin family
Originally published 1980
Genre Young adult fiction
Preceded by The Young Unicorns
|Cover artist Fred Marcellino (hardback)|
Subject love, death, growing up
Similar Madeleine L'Engle books, John Newbery Medal winners
A Ring of Endless Light is a 1980 novel by Madeleine L'Engle. The book tells of teenager Vicky Austin and her struggle to understand life and significance in the universe as she deals with her dying grandfather, while at the same time finding true romantic love.
- This newbery life a ring of endless light for the 90 second newbery film festival
- Plot summary
- Major themes
- Major characters
- Awards and honors
- TV movie
This newbery life a ring of endless light for the 90 second newbery film festival
Fifteen-year-old Vicky Austin and her family are spending the summer on Seven Bay Island with her maternal grandfather, who is dying of leukemia. At the beginning of the story, Vicky attends a funeral for Commander Rodney, a family friend. Also present are the commander's wife, his sons Leo and Jacky who own a launch boat business, and Adam Eddington, an intern at the Island's research base and friend of Vicky's brother, John.
After the funeral Vicky encounters Zachary Gray, her boyfriend from the previous summer whom her family does not particularly like. She soon learns that Zachary indirectly caused Commander Rodney's death; the commander had his heart attack while saving Zachary from a suicide attempt. This revelation and others set Vicky on a train of thought that continues throughout the book; the mysterious and (to Vicky) frightening topic of death. Death and the threat of it seem to loom everywhere, from news reports to the death of a baby dolphin, from the recent demise of Zach's mother in an automobile accident to Grandfather Eaton's slow deterioration.
During the course of the story, Vicky finds herself in a tangle of three romances; one with the solid, unexciting Leo, one with dark and dangerous Zachary, and one with the gentle but emotionally damaged Adam, whom she is helping with a project on dolphin and human communication (ESP) with three dolphins: Basil, Norberta, and Njord. Vicky discovers a remarkable rapport with the dolphins, an unspoken communication that teeters on telepathy. Her ability extends to communicating with Adam as well, but he pulls away, unwilling to allow that level of intimacy after a devastating betrayal the previous summer.
Meanwhile, Vicky must help out at home, facing her grandfather's increasing confusion as he identifies Vicky with his dead wife. He has also been hemorrhaging, and Vicky often goes with Leo to pick up blood. There at the hospital, she meets a girl named Binnie who is sick with a type of leukemia and has seizures. Binnie's father is radically religious and is constantly disposing of the medication that control the seizures.
One night, her grandfather starts to hemorrhage and is sent to the hospital. Vicky is on a date with Zachary, and does not know about her grandfather's medical crisis until they come to the dock and see that Leo is not there to pick them up. Zachary rushes Vicky to the hospital, and eventually abandons her there. As she waits in the emergency room, she is spotted by Binnie's mother, who leaves her unconscious daughter with Vicky while she goes to find a nurse. Binnie has a convulsion and dies in Vicky's arms. This latest trauma sends Vicky into a wave of darkness, an almost catatonic state in which she is only vaguely aware of reality. Vicky's parents and Leo, who are already upset because Vicky's grandfather has been bleeding internally, try unsuccessfully to comfort and communicate with her. Then she feels hands on hers - Adam's. He tells her that she "called" him (meaning with ESP) and he came.
The next day, Vicky is still in a wave of darkness. Her grandfather tells her that it is hard to keep focused on the good and positive in life but she must bear the light or she will be consumed by darkness. He also removes the emotional burden he placed on her earlier, when he asked her to tell him when it was time to die. Vicky is unable to listen, too caught up in her own misery. Finally Adam takes her into the ocean, where Vicky's dolphin friends break through her mental darkness, until she is able to play with them and face the light again.
The primary theme of the story is death, and continuing to appreciate and choose life in the face of it. Vicky is surrounded by death during the summer of the story, and the people around her have their own responses to it as well. Slowly dying from leukemia, Grandfather Eaton encourages Vicky to enjoy life while developing her talent for writing, and only gradually begins to make unreasonable demands as his own mental clarity starts to fail. Having lost his father, Leo Rodney questions his previously comfortable faith, while taking responsibility for the family's income. Zachary, whose mother died recently, alternately courts death - driving too fast, flying recklessly in a plane - and runs away from it. Adam, who holds himself responsible for the death of Joshua Archer the previous summer (in The Arm of the Starfish) because he trusted a girl, is reluctant to open his heart and risk being hurt again. In addition to the deaths of Commander Rodney and Binnie and the impending death of her grandfather, Vicky meets a dolphin researcher who nearly dies in an accident, sees a dolphin swim with her dead baby, and even worries about baby swallows in a shallow, ill-placed nest.
Related to this is the theme of religious faith in the face of death, a problem Vicky previously confronted in The Moon by Night. After observing her grandfather's joyful faith even in the midst of death and impending death at Commander Rodney's funeral, Vicky sees how Rodney's death has shaken his son Leo's once comfortable faith, and is confronted again with Zach's nihilism. After a brief period of despair after the death of Binnie, Vicky's faith is restored by the dolphins, whose songs she compares with "alien alleluias".
Awards and honors
A Ring of Endless Light was named Newbery Honor Book in 1981. It also won the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, the California Young Reader Medal (1982) and the Colorado Children's Book Award (1983).
In 2002, the Disney Channel made A Ring of Endless Light into a made-for-TV movie starring Mischa Barton and Ryan Merriman. The film's plot veered substantially from that of the book. Vicky's parents are conveniently absent for much of the movie. Vicky's astronomy-minded elder brother John is not mentioned, and Suzy is interested in astronomy instead of medicine. Grandfather Eaton's illness is undisclosed at first, instead of being the reason the family is spending the summer with him. Other examples of death and dying are absent entirely from the movie, along with such characters as Leo Rodney and his family, and the dying child Binnie. Whole-cloth additions to the story include Adam and Zachary teaming up to save dolphins from illegal drift nets, and Vicky being under pressure to study science in order to gain admission to an elite school.