The Arm of the Starfish

by Madeleine L'Engle

Paperback, 1979



Local notes





Laurel Leaf (1979), 240 pages


A marine biology student reporting to his summer job on an island off Portugal finds himself at the center of a power struggle between his boss and another group of Americans.


Vermont Golden Dome Book Award (Nominee — 1966-1967)
Gaylactic Spectrum Award (Nominee — Hall of Fame — 1999)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

240 p.; 4.17 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member lexibob1
This series is one of my favorites. I loved the previous books a lot more then this one, though. I really miss Charles Wallis, because he was probably my favorite character. I also missed the time travel that the rest of the books had. Other then that all, I really liked it.
LibraryThing member livlovlaf
Good book, just didn't end up the way i though it would. But it still had a good ennding. Very exciting and intresting. Adam-a marine biology student spending his summer working for a renowned scientist Dr.O'Keefe-has to choose which side to be on: Cutter's or O'Keefe's. Caught between Kali
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Cutter-the bueatiful young blond's-seductive wiles and the trusting adoraion of Dr. O'Keefe's daughter, Poly, Adam has to choose.
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LibraryThing member andersonden
It centers on a young man who goes to become a research assistant in a small lab studying regeneration of limbs in starfish. The lab is run by Dr. O'Keefe (the same Calvin O'Keefe in the "Time" trilogy - now married to Meg) on a small island off the coast of Portugal. Adam is caught in a moral
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dilemma concerning the research being conducted there and who has the right (or obligation) to use it - or release it. L'Engle skillfully handles his inner tension and conflict. The family and relationships are well drawn. An enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member j.leigh.muller
One of my favorite books for young adults - engages with mature themes and characters that capture the imagination. L'Engle almost never fails, and this is one of her best! After I read it as a child, it was on my mind for 10 years before I finally bought my copy.
LibraryThing member davegregg
Excellent book! For the first almost-quarter of the book, I thought the story was hackneyed and unimaginative, but as I discovered later, the way-too-coincidental "accidents" that occur early on weren't at all coincidental, and the seemingly-improbable were provided truly plausible and satisfying
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explanations that managed to resolve conclusively all my uncertainties about the ability of the author. The story progressed with rapidity through a number of unexpected turns. It was pleasingly full of intrigue, action, and questions about morality and common love. It's a good book, worth reading. If you find a copy, read it.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
This story illustrates quite well the power that the first impression has. Adam is put in the terrible position of trying to figure out who is telling the truth - something that I never had any problem with in the story because the bad guys are just obviously bad. But because the bad guys
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approached him first with a plausible story, he was never quite certain where the truth lay - and pretty girls always confuse the picture, it seems. But I suppose for a 16 or 17 year old boy whose life has been pretty straightforward, the intrigues that occur in this novel would definitely make him a pawn in a larger game. The emotions Ms. L'Engle described regarding loss were very real and evocative.
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LibraryThing member satyridae
Hokey? Yes. Stiffly unrealistic dialogue? Yes. Unbelievable characters? Yes. Credulity-straining plot? Yes. Annoying spelling of Poly? Yes.

Is it a wonderful book that transcends all the limitations? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Again, it's the joy L'Engle evokes that hooks me. Her world, at
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base, makes sense and is full of strong, moral, and unabashedly joyful characters.
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LibraryThing member christine3236
All three of the newly-released "Poly series" books are about the O'Keefe family. Mom and Dad are scientifically oriented, although mom has many children and little time for her interests in mathmatics. In this novel, Dad is conducting very secret experiments on starfish having to do with their
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ability to regenerate. This research is valuable to many, and he has been threatened. But we do not see the O'Keefe's story directly, which is part of the charm of this series. Instead, both the first and second books in this series are seen through the eyes of a young, male narrator who is acquainted with the family through work or by chance. In this volume, a young man, Adam, gets a job as an assistant to Dr. O'Keefe. It is through eyes of this imperfect narrator, as Adam struggles to make a choice between loyalty to the family and the allure of espionage, that we first get to know the O'Keefes.
You really cannot be sure what choice our young man will make, which I like. I also like the way L'Engle does resolve the issues, although I won't spoil that here. But I will identify fantastical elements: Poly gives a gift that seems to imply she has some ability to sense the future; her brother, Charles, also knows that something very sad will happen before it does; there is a dolphin that shows up at opportune moments; and Dr. O'Keefe's experiments seem to conclude with fantastical findings. Yet, for all these magical elements bring to the story, you could take them away and be left with the same story. For that reason, it seems less a fantasy to me and more an example of magic realism
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LibraryThing member AprilBrown
What ages would I recommend it too? – Twelve and up.

Length? – Two evenings read.

Characters? – Several.

Setting? – Lisbon and nearby islands.

Written approximately? – 1968

Does the story leave questions in the readers mind? – Yes

Any issues the author (or a more recent publisher) should
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cover? This novel was set during the Cold War. many references and thought processes will not be understood by those who haven't studied the Cold War.

Short storyline: Adam flies to the island and is intercepted by one spy in a scientific health battle. Dr. O'Keefe's daughter is kidnapped. In order to get her back, Adam promises to spy for the one power hungry side. In the end, Adam spies for both sides.

Notes for the reader: The portrayal of Adam in this novel is contrary to his portrayal in earlier and later books. He would not be so naive, and just let things happen to and around him.
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LibraryThing member Jean_Sexton
One of the wonderful qualities about Madeleine L'Engle's writing is that her books feel timeless. This story could be happening now. On the surface it is a mystery/science fiction/suspense novel for young adults. Yet the reader is led to consider how do we do Good, and for whom. I think this one
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quotation says it all, "If you're going to care about the fall of the sparrow you can't pick and choose who's going to be the sparrow. It's everybody."
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LibraryThing member SueinCyprus
Intended as a teenage thriler, written fifty years ago, this is a very well written book with a great deal of suspense. The action moves at just the right pace; not so rapidly that I lost track of what was going on, but with detours into sightseeing and conversation that keeps the tension, and made
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it quite difficult to put the book down.

The theme is a marine biology project which is perhaps unrealistic; but it doesn’t matter. If it’s science fiction rather than science, it’s very well done, and the detail is minimal. The danger of important research getting into the wrong hands, however, feels all too real as the protagonist comes up against ruthless greed.

Many of L’Engle’s books have a Christian theme, usually fairly low key. The overall story has a clear good vs evil plot which could appeal to anyone. L’Engle doesn’t make the mistake of spelling out her beliefs, but the power of love is strong.

I wasn’t sure I liked this when I was about half-way through, and the climax to the book includes a shocking scene which I should perhaps have foreseen. Having finished it, I rate it highly. Not for young children, but teenagers who have read the later ‘Harry Potter’ books, or ‘Lord of the Rings’ might well enjoy this. And as an adult, I very much appreciated it too.

Definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member raizel
A teenager must choose which of two groups of people to trust, but it's easy for the reader to decide.

There is a quote from and discussion about "Two Tramps in Mudtime" by Robert Frost. The phrase, Mortal Stakes, used by Robert Parker as a title for one of his Spencer books, is in it:
"Only where
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love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed every really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes." [p. 124]
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
An interesting, suspenseful, and sad tale of science and espionage that is overshadowed by some real bad choices that could have been thought through. A solid 3.5 stars.




½ (318 ratings; 3.8)
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