The Arm of the Starfish

Style: Good

Attitude: Unobjectionable → Positive

In Brief: Accessible mild adventure story. Family closeness with faith, extending to friends. Dolphin intelligence.

Author: Madeleine L'Engle

Publisher: Dell Laurel-Leaf

Published in: 1965

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Late 20th C

Genres:  AdventureSciFiThought-provoking


17-year-old Adam Eddington is going to Europe to spend the summer working on a Portuguese island with the famous biologist Dr O'Keefe. On the way, he is caught up variously with the beautiful Kali Cutter and the slightly sinister Canon Tallis, who leaves Dr O'Keefe's daughter Poly in his charge. By the time Adam reaches the island, Poly's been kidnapped and then released after Adam follows Kali's lead. He is very unsure of himself and it takes the friendship and love of the O'Keefe family and their friends to set things clear for him.


One can't help feeling that the cast of characters is a little too artificially assembled. Canon Tallis, denizen of the L'Engle universe, is a token nondescript churchman. The beautiful Kali Cutter and her sinister rich father are rather obvious bad guys along with their supply of equally sinister henchmen. The O'Keefe family, as families always are in L'Engle's books, are united in their faith and loving and engender trust in anyone who meets them, especially the precocious Poly, while their agnostic friend Joshua is a dashing hero while remaining a very likeable person. O'Keefe is working on a means to give humans the same regenerative capabilities as a starfish. There is a sideplot of Poly and a very intelligent dolphin.

Joshua did not answer his question. Instead: “Maybe it'll help you if I tell you that it wasn't easy for me, either. I don't know about you, Adam, but I can't look forward to pie in the sky. I'm a heretic and a heathen. and I let myself depend far too much on the human beings I love, because — well, just because. I guess the real point is that I care about having a decent world, and if you care about having a decent world you have to take sides. You have to decide who, for you, are the good guys, and who are the bad guys. So, like the fool that I cam, I chose the difficult side, the unsafe side, the side that gurantees me not one thing besides danger and hard work.”

Tuesday 1st January 2002