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For a family with four kids, two dogs, assorted cats, and a constant stream of family and friends dropping by, life in the Austin family home has always been remarkably steady and contented. When a family friend suddenly dies in a plane crash, the Austins open their home to an orphaned girl, Maggy Hamilton. The Austin children―Vicky, John, Suzy, and Rob―do their best to be generous and welcoming to Maggy.
Vicky knows she should feel sorry for Maggy, but having sympathy for Maggy is no easy thing. Maggy is moody and spoiled; she breaks toys, wakes people in the middle of the night screaming, discourages homework, and generally causes chaos in the Austin household. How can one small child disrupt a family of six? Will life ever return to normal?
Review: Reading award-winning author Madeleine L'Engle's Meet the Austins is like taking a vacation with the warm, compassionate Austins--an extraordinary family who takes a little girl named Maggy Hamilton under its wing when her father is killed in a plane accident. Adjusting to a new household member is not easy, as the 12-year-old narrator, Vicky, will testify. Maggy is spoiled, "ubiquitous," laughs in a "horrid, screechy way," and appears to be a child of an entirely different species from the thoughtful, intelligent, kind, yet not cloyingly so, Austin kids. Still, Vicky and her other siblings (Rob, Suzy, and John) grit their collective teeth and struggle to understand her, which becomes easier and easier as the loving family seems to rub off on the newly orphaned Maggy.
The Austins are beyond question a charming family, but their path is by no means rock-free: Vicky sneaks off to a friend's house and severely injures herself in a bike accident, they all get the measles, John is beat up after his guest sermon in church, and they almost lose little Rob. Despite ordinary family setbacks, there's no use pretending this is a run-of-the-mill family. When Vicky is sick, her older brother, John, comes into her room and soothes her with a discussion of the solar system, our atomic composition, and the relativity of size. Family dinner-table talk includes the ethics of meat eating, and a chat with Grandfather ends up with a discussion of whether Einstein believed in God. As in all of L'Engle's novels, she asks the big questions: What is the meaning of life, and how does death fit into that? Are there different kinds of intelligence? What happens when you remove a screw from a radiator? This strangely comforting novel, first published in 1960, is an ALA Notable Book, and was followed by four other books featuring the Austin Family: The Moon by Night, The Young Unicorns, A Ring of Endless Light (a Newbery Honor Book), and Troubling a Star. (Ages 9 to 12) --Karin Snelson
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