The Summer of the Great-Grandmother Critical Context - Essay

Madeleine L'Engle

Critical Context

The value of The Summer of the Great-Grandmother lies in the universality of its subject matter. Most young adult readers have living grandparents whom they love and whom they will eventually lose. This book tells of the dying of just such a beloved family member, and while it deals mostly with the effects of the experience on a middle-aged daughter, the reactions and emotions of L’Engle’s children and grandchildren are included.

As a result, the young adult who reads this book will be introduced to the process of accepting the loss of someone of an older generation, as well as stimulated to think about the concept of family in terms of the past, present, and future. If the adoles-cent has already gone through such a bereavement, then the book can help in the understanding and acceptance of death. This deeply moving and thought-provoking work, however, may not be suitable for an overly sensitive young reader.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother is L’Engle’s elegy for her mother, even as it charts her death and dying. Because the author wrote the book as the means to gain acceptance and understanding of this rite of passage, the reader journeys with the author, experiences her pain, learns of her life and lineage, and perhaps comes to the same conclusions as L’Engle. Whether one agrees with the author’s philosophy, the reader will be challenged to think about the meaning of life and the meaning of death.