A Ring of Endless Light (Austin Family, Book 4)

by Madeleine L'Engle

Paperback, 1981



Local notes

PB Len




Dell Laurel Leaf (1981), 328 pages


During the summer her grandfather is dying of leukemia and death seems all around, 15-year-old Vicky finds comfort with the pod of dolphins with which she has been doing research.



Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

328 p.; 4.68 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member satyridae

Departing from my formulaic L'Engle review here to say this book is one of my all-time favorites. There's so much going on, and so much grave and serious beauty, that if there are clunky bits, I never saw them.

I also never noticed, until this read, that L'Engle was a fan of Saint-Exupéry's
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flying books- one of which, Wind, Sand and Stars, is one of my desert island books. I think I was too caught up in the Vicky/Zachary drama to notice the pilot talking at the airport.

I love the last bit at the hospital, where Binnie/Robin dies and Vicky goes into a fugue state, I think it captures the moment exceptionally well. Having been in a similar situation, without a pod of dolphins to bring me back after, I recognised the bleakness and the darkness.

The casual erudition of all the adolescent characters in ML'E's works is a little bit laughable - but as a bright kid, I found hope there. So I can't mock too much since I drew so much comfort in thinking that there were other serious, thinking kids somewhere. If only fictional ones.

I love this book, with its unflinching attention to death and decay. I love its deep and dazzling darkness, its solemnity and sanctity. I love, of course, the conviction at the root of it that every life matters, every breath counts.

And, yes, I love Zachary with his grandstanding and his deathwish, his inability to adjust to his own adolescence, his helpless attraction to the Austins and their loving lifestyle, and his knee-jerk denying of said attraction. Adam is easy to love in the same way the Austins are easy to love, and the Rodneys. Zachary is not so easy to love, but L'Engle wants us to see that he's worthy of loving, just as worthy as the rest- in fact, she goes out of her way to make that point, I think.

This is one of my favorite of all L'Engle's works, and probably the one I've read the most. And I think the only book I ever stole. Now, in the spirit of L'Engle's honesty and transparency, I will confess that I told my childhood library I lost this book in 1981 and paid for the losing of it. It was never lost, it's right here. I could have bought my own copy from a bookstore, but this is the one with the magic in it.
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LibraryThing member weener
Sometimes you hear about a book that sounds really dumb and you just have to read it. I remember liking A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid and found out about this lame-sounding dolphin book and brought it home from the library on impulse.

I probably would have looooved this book when I was about
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11. The reasons for this are twofold. First of all, it's packed to the brim with adolescent wish fulfillment that would thrill a tween or young teenager, but bores the life out of an older person. The main character, 15-year old Vicky, is a plain-Jane dreamer/poet who's not gorgeous or smart like her younger sister, but three good-looking boys have suddenly decided she's hot stuff and are competing for her attention. There's Leo, the devoted platonic friend that Vicky feels an emotional connection to but isn't attracted to. There's Zachary, the sexy troubled bad boy with more money than God, who takes her to country club dinners, rides in his Alfa Romeo, and plans on getting a private plane. Finally, there's Adam, her older brother's hunky friend with sea-colored eyes, who works with dolphins at the marine research lab. Ooh la la! Also, by hanging out with Adam she gets to ride dolphins. Yep. She gets to ride around on a dolphin's back, and it leaps out of the water and she flies through the air on the back of a gleaming dolphin. Isn't that another thing 11-year old girls get off to? I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing I was drawing pictures of on my Trapper Keeper at that age. She also finds she can communicate with dolphins psychically for some unexplained reason. Yeah, whatever.

The second reason I would have liked this more as a child than an adult is that the religious overtones of the book would have gone right over my head at that age. When I was a kid, I loved the Narnia books. I had no idea that sneaky C.S. Lewis was trying to make me believe in Jesus. Talking animals, man! Flying around on the back of a magical talking lion! I was all about it. I know that Madeline L’Engle was Christian but I was barely aware of Christianity in 5th grade. But now: oh man. Vicky spends the book trying to come to terms with the inevitability of death and suffering in the world. Her minister grandfather, who has leukemia and does not have long to live, is Vicky’s bargain-basement source of and biblical wisdom and general cheap platitudes. Whenever she’s confused about something, she goes to grandpa, who reaches into the depths of his wisdom and soothes her with some passage from the good book. The first part of the book especially is full of heavy-handed Christian moralizing. I will give L’Engle credit for making her book not as awful as books that are intended as Christian fiction, where all conflict is resolved when the characters realize all they needed to do is put their lives in God’s hand. There are even some sympathetic characters that don’t identify as religious or believe in heaven. But overall, all the Christian stuff was hard for me as an adult to stomach.

I give this 2.5 stars. The stuff about death was actually pretty interesting. But all the boy-juggling and dolphin ESP communication? Not my cup of tea, and that was ¾ of the book.
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LibraryThing member the_dragonfly
Though I started reading L'Engle's work like so many others--with A Wrinkle in Time at around the age of 10--it wasn't until I read this book that she took hold of my soul. While the dramatic adventures of the Murry/O'Keeffe's are the best-known of her works, I find myself drawn more consistently
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to re-reading the books about the Austins, L'Engle's "ordinary" family. The protagonist is Vicky, the second of four children and the voice of every teen girl's struggle against her own contrary nature. In a family of highly talented and well-adjusted people, Vicky feels a bit at odds, as she thinks herself the lackluster one, the one with no outstanding qualities, the only one who doubts herself and her place in the world. In this particular Austin family story, Vicky's family is spending the summer with their dying grandfather. Vicky is struggling to comprehend and absorb his impending death as well as the sudden death of a family friend when she re-encounters the vain and self-focused Zachary Gray--a boy obsessed with the concept of death. She also meets a dolphin researcher named Adam Eddington, who is healing from wounds of his own. Through her interactions with these characters and the dolphins themselves, Vicky discovers her true gifts and her inner resilience against the pain of loss which threatens to overwhelm her.

It is a story that any young girl can find compelling--we are all Vicky at times, and we all hope that we will discover our inner magic when we most fervently doubt that it truly exists. L'Engle's hopeful vision of surviving the teen years is told in a gentle story, one that kids are safe reading even as it can speak to them on a level of truth, even 30 years after its publication. Like most of L'Engle's work, the heart of it endures.

From a literary standpoint, I find this to be one of her finest works. It is often the case that reading L'Engle's work can evoke a sense of deja vu in the reader, as the main characters at times reflect a great deal of her personality and history and therefore, a certain similarity in voice and outlook. This book, however, seems to be one of the few in which I don't feel L'Engle's presence quite so keenly. In Vicky Austin she has created a character who shares some of her physical features and outlook but who is independent of L'Engle's own imprint. Vicky Austin resonates as her own voice as a soft-spoken girl-c*m-woman in her quiet nature, her constant observation, her utter lack of compulsion for any pursuit, and yet she reflects the qualities that teen girls can relate to most passionately in her yearning inner narrative, her sexual confusion, her sense that her "self" is somehow difficult to locate.

And the writing is classically Madeleine L'Engle--the family is large, warm, and close; they share simple traditions and follow a traditional nuclear structure yet are considered unusual by their peers; the viewpoint of the characters is an assumptive Christian theology, non-proselytizing in manner; and the central themes ultimately turn to a cosmic, edge-of-supernatural spirituality echoing the core themes of the Time Series and others of L'Engle's works. A highly recommended book for fans of L'Engle or for young readers engaged in the search for meaning.
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LibraryThing member rvolenti
I started reading this book, and I could not stop. I'm not sure why, but I was drawn into the moralist Austin family. The story is obviously meant for young teen girls, and has the whimsical teen love aspect that while silly reminds you of your own first loves/crushes. It however deals with a very
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adult concept of death. The combination of whimsiness and seriousness creates an amazing story, and L'Engle has a great way with words.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I like the Vicky in this novel - she's growing up and it's certainly fun to watch her juggle the different boys who are interested in her. I think too, that her relationship with her grandfather, and the thoughts and grief that come with watching a beloved family member die feel very real. Other
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parts of the story didn't work for me. There's a lot of philosophizing about the meaning of life amid the tragedy of death and the whole question precipitates an ending that felt really false to me. Also, I loved the ideas of Vicky's interactions with dolphins, but at the same time it felt like too much fantasy in the midst of a very realistic novel. So a mixed bag for me.
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LibraryThing member akreese
This is my favorite Madelein L'Engle book. Vicky and her family are staying with her grandfather who is dying. I love the contrast of death and life in this book. Vicky is trying to wrap her mind around the fact that her grandfather will no longer be there, and is profoundly saddened. At the same
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time, life goes on, and her interactions with her friend Adam and the dolphins he is researching, give her renewed energy with which to face life.
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LibraryThing member madhamster
Vicky Austin has had a difficult year - it seems that death is more prevalent than life following the deaths of a family friend, the mother of a friend, a young girl, and one of the dolphin pod she is befriending. Added to this is the slow deterioration of her beloved grandfather, the depression of
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a friend following his wife and children's deaths in a car accident, and the suicide wish of a friend, following his mother's death. Towards the end of the novel it has all become too much for her and she falls into a depression, albeit brief. It is the work of her grandfather and friend, Adam, and the dolphins which bring her out of the mood. Touches of fantasy are throughout the novel, specifically the psychic communication between Vicky and the dolphins, and Vicky and Adam.
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LibraryThing member vpliving
Vicky Austin goes to her grandfather’s house on Seven Bay Island. Each day, her grandfather only seems to grow weaker from Leukemia. The book begins with the Austin’s family friend Commander Rodney’s funeral. There, she meets her older brother’s friend Adam, who she thinks she likes. She
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soon begins working with him and his dolphins in an ESP project.
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LibraryThing member lefou
I'm not going to lie, this book made me somewhat ill.
It's not that is was bad-far from it, in fact. But the story gave me a terrible feeling inside, somewhere between nausea and a deep need to die. It may be because I was 10 years old and going through a deep depression already, but whenever I
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think of this book, I think of a terribly dark story with dolphins used in a poor attempt to lighten the mood.
Honestly, it hurt me so much that even now, 5 years later, I'm somewhat terrified of picking it up.

However, it gets three stars, because as I said, I was already sick, and therefore somewhat...biased, for lack of a better word.
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LibraryThing member sdunford
The continuing fight between good and evil - life and death - a slow go in the beginning but in the last pages, impossible to put down
LibraryThing member singersdd
This is one of my favorite books of all. time. Everything about it rings true. It's about appreciating every second of life, especially when we know it's going to end. It is a joyful book and I highly recommend it.
LibraryThing member stephanie.dicesare.7
This was a cute, summer read. The book is Kind of old, but it was good. The movie was awful, so don't see the movie.
LibraryThing member aimless22
Wonderfully written story of the summer Vicky Austin's family spends on Seven Bay Island. Three young men vie for Vicky's affections while she and her family struggle with their emotions about her dying grandfather. The special link that Vicky shares with some dolphins being studied at the island's
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Marine Biology Lab helps her get through each difficult day as well as the happy days.
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LibraryThing member KendallCH
A Ring of Endless Light is a coming of age story about a teenage girl named Vicky Austin. She and her family go to a small island, Seven Bay Island, to spend the summer with her grandfather. During the story, Vicky discovers that her beloved grandfather has cancer and is dying. Watching his
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deterioration is very difficult.

She also struggles with being the center of attention of 3 very different boys: Zachary Grey, a rich kid struggling with the loss of his mom, Leo Rodney, an old friend that now has romantic feelings for Vicky and seeks her comfort after his father dies from a heart attack suffered while rescuing Zachary from a capsized boat; and Adam Eddington, her brother's best friend that is doing research on dolphins.

While I liked this book, I felt it had a little too much romance and emotional drama and not enough action.

My favorite part of the book was when Vicky figured out that she could telepathically talk to Basil, a dolphin. I wish that more of the book was about this side plot.

Out of the 3 boys vying for Vicky's attention, I liked Adam the best because I liked the way that he treated her and the way that he made her feel. I liked that he was a happy person and was curious about the world.

For me this book highlighted the fact that everyone has a story. Everyone is dealing with something, some hardship. We need to stick together and support one another the best we can to make life bearable. You never really know what someone is going through.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Vicky Austin and her family are staying at her grandfather's for the summer, since he has untreatable cancer and not long to live. Added to that, an island inhabitant unexpectedly dies, and Vicky finds three young men vying for her attention.

The Young Unicorns was a bit of a departure in this
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series, focusing less on Vicky and written in third person during their year in New York. A Ring of Endless Light returns to Vicky's "not quite 16" point of view, including her adolescent struggles with faith and love and growing up. If I had read it years ago, I think I would've taken a harsh view of Vicky's doubts and wondered why on earth she had so much trouble making up her mind about boys. I might not have understood some of the descriptions of her grandfather's decline, either. But as an adult, I find myself understanding why Vicky's not sure she believes in God all the time. I remember being a teenager and not sure if a couple of boys liked me and not sure how to handle it. And a few years ago, I saw my grandmother decline in a similar way where by the end she was less present with the living and knew it was nearly time to go. Really my only complaint is that the ending felt less resolved than I would have liked.
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LibraryThing member AnjelicaM4
Vicky Austin is a 15, almost 16 year old teen who, like most, wonder about life and people. She questions her beleives as she sees her grandfather slowly die. Staying at the island with him was harder than she thought and to make things worse she is torn between three boys.
LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
L'Engle knows how to braid the beautiful, scientific, and unearthly together like no other, and this book is no different. Vicky's special relationship with dolphins mingles with a hard summer of facing her grandfather's failing health and confusion over boys. One of my favorite L'Engles ever.
LibraryThing member adietrick
Vicky Austin feels like she doesn't have anything figured out during the summer of her grandfather's illness. However, while her grandfather is dying of cancer, she learns to view and value life differently through her newfound friendship with Adam and his experiment with dolphins. Throughout the
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story, L'Engle approaches the weighty topics of death and religious beliefs without giving readers easy, stale answers. This book will probably most deeply satisfy readers with questions about personal faith and self identity. The storyline is outdated in comparison to today's technological advancements. (No cell phones! No computers!) The philosophical discussions, though, remain pertinent for those asking age-old questions about the meaning of life and death.
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LibraryThing member OpheliasNightmare
The ending of this book is simply amazing. I wish she had delved a little more into some ideas presented in the book, but still, it's a good book.
My only critique is that some of the characters are unrealistic.
LibraryThing member DzejnCrvena
I read "A Wrinkle in Time" few years ago and I thought this is also a fantasy family drama. Scratch that.
It's actually about a family who spend their summer near the beach (or is it island? I already forgot.

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