"What's an oddball?" My daughter asks.
We’re snuggled on the couch reading Madeleine L’Engle’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a dark tale in which a hot-tempered misfit protagonist, her telepathic brother, and a newfound friend travel the fifth dimension of time to save her missing father from the evil It.
Other kids in the novel refer to the heroine, Meg Murray, as an oddball. My daughter, who attends a French school in Quebec, has never encountered this outdated colloquialism.
“Someone who is different, who doesn’t fit in,” I say.
She furrows her brow and pushes her glasses up her freckled nose. She asks, “So, Meg is different because she has outbursts at school and gives Mr. Jenkins a hard time?”
I smile. Teagan zeroes in on Meg’s communication problems: She is a stubborn math genius who gets in trouble for mouthing off when confronted by peers and teachers. This behaviour stands out to my easy-going daughter. Teagan’s a positive, confident kid who feels comfortable in any setting and welcomes new challenges.
When I was 12 years old, I perceived Meg’s homeliness and awkwardness as the defining traits that made her different. She wore glasses and braces that made her feel "repulsive-looking." She had dark hair and few friends. Like Meg, I was a four-eyed, brace-faced girl with a tangle of frizzy black hair. A girl who often spent recess huddled in a corner, alone, counting down the minutes until the bell rang. I was her real-life dead ringer. I was Meg.
Both Meg’s stubbornness and a pair of enchanted eyeglasses help her summon up the courage to battle It —the villain Teagan refers to as “the disgusting and wiggling giant brain." In the end, Meg’s big heart allows her to conquer evil.
In August of 1963, Madeleine L’Engle received the John Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time. In her acceptance speech, the writer claimed the best children’s books “partake of the universal language, and this is why we turn to them again and again when we are children, and still again when we have grown up.”
Whether reading A Wrinkle in Time after finding a tattered copy in the library in 1986, or here and now with my daughter, Meg remains a relatable misfit. She’s a brave girl who conquers self-doubt during her journey, an endearing oddball who still delights girls like my daughter.
Once upon a time, Carole Besharah catalogued picture books as a library technician in primary schools. With a B.A. and a lifetime of reading under her belt, she now writes children’s stories of her own. Carole lives at the foot of the enchanted Gatineau Hills with her husband and their two children.