Madeleine L'Engle - The Young Unicorns

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The Young Unicorns: A Genie in New York

Dec 6, 2000 (Updated Nov 18, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:timeless theme, good writing, challenges the reader

Cons:plot can be a bit over the top

The Bottom Line: A sometimes unbelievable plot line is made up for with excellent writing and a timeless story with a moral message.


I remember the day in sixth grade when Sr. Julie sat down on her wooden stool in the front of the class and began to read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Little did she know that she would open the door to a new world of reading for me, one that would stay open long after I reached adulthood and was no longer ordering books out of the paper "book day" pamphlets.

Even as a teenager (and an older teen at that), my Christmas wishlist included a list of Madeleine L'Engle books culled from the list at the front of the books I already owned. My mother spent many a day at our local bookstore, since forced out of business by industry giants and online dealers, filling out "out of print" orders. I spent an entire Christmas day on the couch, on my side facing the back of the couch, devouring this book.

::: The Story :::

The Young Unicorns is what I refer to as a crossover book in L'Engle's repertoire. Some of her series deal strictly with reality and others deal more with science-fiction and fantasy themes. The Young Unicorns one falls squarely in the middle. While it is part of the Austin Family series, which is a reality-based series, it never really belonged there for me, feeling more like L'Engle's novels like A Wrinkle in Time.

When we meet up with the Austins this time, the family is living in New York City while the family patriarch is on a year's sabbatical as a research scientist. The Austins are living in an apartment upstairs from an eccentric professor and his blind child prodigy daughter, Emily. One day on their way home from school, the Austins and Emily rub a lamp they find at a thrift store and meet a genie, which draws them closer and closer to a plot that involves science gone wrong and a plot to overtake the city that involves the Episcopal cathedral (St. John the Divine), Dr. Austin's research work, and Dave Davidson, Emily's tutor.

::: The Morals of the Story :::

As a teen, I was drawn into the plot, fantastic as it was, even at the time. As an adult rereading the book (and I have reread it often) the plot at times seems far-fetched, but L'Engle's writing always draws me in, making you believe in events that probably could never happen. In light of recent news items about the Catholic Church, you begin to realize that no church is without its politics and secrets.

Even more fascinating, though is the theme of science being misused for power. At the time the book was written, the events must have seemed preposterous. With today's ethical quandries being cloning and genetic engineering, the possibilities for scientific developments being misappropriated and used for personal gain rather than the good of humanity rings especially true.

I still find myself rereading this book on a rainy day, and my paperback version is tattered and well-worn. I still feel that, while not one of her absolute best books, there are definitely morals to this story that I hope my daughter can appreciate. I bought the hardcover and put it away for her. I would recommend it for an older reader, more in the middle school to junior high range, based on some violence and the subject matter.


Recommend this product? Yes


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