The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle

thearmReleased: January 1, 1965
Pages: 243 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Trust, faith, picking sides, standing for something, friendship, dealing with grief
Genre(s): YA / Contemporary / Fiction
Age Group: 12+


When Adam Eddington, a gifted marine biology student, makes the acquaintance of blond and beautiful Kali Cutter at Kennedy International Airport on his way to Portugal to spend the summer working for the renowned scientist Dr. O’Keefe, he has no idea that this seemingly chance meeting will set into motion a chain of events he will be unable to stop.

Caught between Kali’s seductive wiles and the trusting adoration of Dr. O’Keefe’s daughter, Polly, Adam finds himself enmeshed in a deadly power struggle between two groups of people, only one of which can have right on its side. As the danger escalates, Adam must make a decision that could affect the entire world–which side is he on?


I don’t remember exactly the last time I read The Arm of the Starfish. If I had to guess, I’d probably say 2012 or 2013. I feel like I might have read it before then, but I’m not sure. I know both (or just the one) time(s) I had borrowed it from the library (as a lesser known L’Engle work it is hard to find physically in stores). It’s not that it’s an unmemorable book, but it’s not one that I’ve ever had much cause to think about beyond a week or so of reading it.

There are more than a handful of books I love but don’t attempt to remember in depth so that each future time I read them it’s somewhat like the first time. This is one of them.

If you haven’t read either A Ring of Endless Light or The Arm of the Starfish, I recommend reading the former first, even though it came out after. These books are very different from one another, but I think it’s nicer to read The Arm of the Starfish with an idea of who the protagonist will become. I loved this book. I love the character of Adam and I like the journey his character takes to become the person he is in A Ring of Endless Light. I have rated this book 4 stars, primarily because I have taken my love for her other books into account.

My Thoughts

This book precedes A Ring of Endless Light (which I reviewed last week) by about 15 years in terms of publication, but takes place only a summer before the better known, more accoladed work. It features Adam Eddington as the protagonist of this summer-time escapade. It’s set in Europe, Portugal/Spain more specifically, and involves international intrigue and a top-secret scientific study. So it’s very different from the novel centered around Vicky Austin!

We get to see an Adam Eddington who is a year younger than he is A Ring of Endless Light, who is a lot less confident and sure of the world. Although he has lived a colorful life in 1960s (presumably) New York, he’s not yet been forced to make tough, life-altering decisions. In The Arm of the Starfish, he learns that scientists cannot be neutral when their work has economic and moral implications. He also learns how important is it to know who is worth trusting.

From the first chapter while Adam is innocently waiting for his plane to Europe to board, he is drawn into a dangerous plot that forces him to constantly question which people truly are on the right side of things. While he is struggling he meets the wonderful O’Keefes (a grown up Calvin and Meg from A Wrinkle in Time plus their children) and is given the space to come to his own conclusion, at which point he learns that he must play a role to keep his allegiance and a major scientific discovery a secret.

This book is short, fast-paced, and could be finished in one sitting if the reader is truly immersed in the story. If you enjoyed and were moved by A Ring of Endless Light, I think you will also be moved by this book. There’s a lot of moments of good humor and joy, but there are also some devastating ones that can have you sobbing your heart out and railing against injustice.


Since I just read La Belle Sauvage, I feel like I’m well and fully on an international-spy-thriller genre kick right now! I don’t know if I’m just easy to please or unexperienced in the genre, I feel like this book is also a good one to consult if you’re writing a book where there’s people who want to stop or exploit a new discovery and people who want to protect it.

This book gave me a major 1960s Audrey Heburn movie vibe, like Charade (1963) or How to Steal a Million (1966). I think it was the European setting, the rich and glamorous love interest, the shifty characters, and the suspense-filled plot.

Despite all the excitement, this book has the characteristic L’Engle heart to the story. There are several beautiful scenes of intense fraternal love and, on the opposite side of the scale, devastating anger. One scene that I feel has been etched into me is a scene where Adam is being taken to Gaea by Joshua, and they encounter turbulence. I’ve flown through turbulence before, and found it horrendous, so to read about them on this rickety plane and see Joshua embracing it while bellowing out classical music was elating and beautiful scene that shows the kind of person Joshua is.

Outgoing Message

Last week at the end of my review of A Ring of Endless Light, I forecasted how the next few reviews would go. I have a few updates: 1) They will not be dual reviews, because I’ve found I have so much to say, and 2) I will not longer be reading and reviewing The Young Unicorns. I’ve read this book before, so I definitely know I want to review it on this blog in the future, but from the first page I just knew that this wasn’t the best time for it. It’s a cosy autumnal read, so I’ll get to it later this year!

Instead, I’ve decided to add The City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende to the line-up this month. It one I read as a child and remember very it very fondly. I think it will nicely compliment Dragons in the Waters for a few reasons I’ll explain next week.

Have you read The Arm of the Starfish? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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One thought on “The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle

  1. Pingback: Troubling a Star by Madeleine L’Engle – Betwined Reads

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