Camilla (Camilla Dickinson Series #1)

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Fifteen-year-old Camilla Dickinson has led a sheltered life on the Upper East Side with her architect father and stunningly beautiful mother. But this winter the security she has always known has vanished, because her parents’ marriage is coming apart – and Camilla is caught in the middle. She finds a way to escape her troubles when she meets Frank, her best friend’s brother, who is someone she can really talk to about life, death, God, and her dream of becoming an astronomer. When Frank introduces her to the ...

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Camilla (Camilla Dickinson Series #1)

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Fifteen-year-old Camilla Dickinson has led a sheltered life on the Upper East Side with her architect father and stunningly beautiful mother. But this winter the security she has always known has vanished, because her parents’ marriage is coming apart – and Camilla is caught in the middle. She finds a way to escape her troubles when she meets Frank, her best friend’s brother, who is someone she can really talk to about life, death, God, and her dream of becoming an astronomer. When Frank introduces her to the important people in his life, who are so different from anyone she has met before, he opens her eyes to worlds beyond her own, almost as if he were a telescope helping her to see the stars.

This novel, one of the author’s earliest, is the story of a girl who, with the help of her first love, leaves childhood behind and enters adulthood with a newfound sense of self and inner strength.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Struggling to make sense of all that conflict, walking the snowy city streets with a boy named Frank, Camilla tries to fathom the sweet, slow progress of desire.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In Madeleine L'Engle's coming-of-age story (Farrar Straus, 2009) set shortly after the end of World War II, Camilla Dickinson, 15, has lived a relatively carefree, yet sheltered life and is content to spend her days going to school, doing homework, and strolling along the streets of New York City with her best friend, Luisa. Camilla's world begins to change when she starts dating Luisa's brother, Frank, causing a huge rift in their friendship. In a short time, her entire world flips upside down. Camilla's mother, craving the love of her undemonstrative husband, begins an affair with Jacques, and Camilla witnesses them in a passionate kiss. Rejection from Camilla, the subsequent loss of Jacques' affection, and further indifference from her husband causes her mother to slit her wrists. Thus begins the struggle for the family to rebuild their lives, albeit in an odd way, with Camilla's mother and father moving to Italy and Camilla attending a boarding school. Ann Marie Lee perfectly captures Camilla's flutter-love excitement, curiosity, and disappointment, while also bringing to life a paraplegic veteran's sarcasm and disillusionment and a married couple's bitterness. The author tenderly tackles the subjects of religion, suicide, first love, and more. A must-have for all L'Engle collections.—Cheryl Preisendorfer, Twinsburg City Schools, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374310318
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/27/2009
  • Series: Camilla Dickinson Series , #1
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Madeleine L'Engle
Madeleine L'Engle was the author of more than forty-five books for all ages, among them the beloved A Wrinkle in Time, awarded the Newbery Medal; A Swiftly Tilting Planet, winner of the American Book Award; A Wind in the Door; and An Acceptable Time—all of which are available on audio from Listening Library. Madeleine L'Engle was named the 1998 recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring her lifetime contribution in writing for teens.


Madeleine L'Engle Camp was born in New York City and educated in boarding schools in Switzerland and across the United States. A shy, withdrawn child with few friends, she retreated into writing at an early age. She attended Smith College, graduating summa cum laude in 1941. After college, she worked in the New York theatre, where she met her future husband, Hugh Franklin. (Later she would say that they "met in The Cherry Orchard and married during The Joyous Season.") Her first book, The Small Rain (1945), was completed while she was still working as an actress.

After the birth of their first child, Madeleine and her husband moved to rural Connecticut to run a small general store; but in 1959, they returned to New York City with their three children so Hugh Franklin could resume his acting career (For many years, he played Dr. Charles Tyler on the popular television soap opera All My Children.) Although Madeleine wrote steadily during this period, few of her books were published. Then, in 1960, she released her first children's story, Meet the Austins. An affectionate portrait of a close-knit family, the book was named an ALA Notable Children's Book of the year and spawned several bestselling sequels.

Completed in 1960, L'Engle's science fiction YA classic A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by more than two dozen publishers before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally released it in 1962. Elegant, imaginative, and filled with complex moral themes, the acclaimed Newbery Medal winner tells the story of Meg Murry, a young girl who travels through time with her psychically gifted younger brother to rescue their scientist father from a planet controlled by an evil entity known as the Dark Thing. Throughout her career, L'Engle would return to the Murry family three more times, in A Wind in the Door (1973), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), and Many Waters (1986). The Time Quartet, as these four books have come to be called, weaves together elements of theology and quantum physics often assumed to be far too esoteric for children to understand. Yet, it became a true classic of juvenalia. L'Engle explained once, "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

In addition to her YA novels, the prolific writer also penned adult fiction, poems, plays, memoirs, and religious meditations. She served as the longtime librarian and writer-in-residence for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Madeleine L'Engle passed away at a nursing home in Connecticut in 2007.

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    1. Date of Birth:
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Death:
      September 6, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      Litchfield, CT
    1. Education:
      Smith College, 1941

Read an Excerpt

I KNEW AS SOON AS I GOT HOME on Wednesday that Jacques was there with my mother. I knew it when I walked into the entrance hall of the apartment and the door­man said, “Good afternoon, Miss Camilla,” and smiled at me with the eager and curious smile for which I had begun to look each time I came home. I walked across the hall, and prayed that Jacques would go now that I was home, that he would go before my father came. And I was glad that I had come straight home after school instead of going for a walk with Luisa.
I stepped into the elevator and the elevator boy said, as though he had something exotic-tasting in his mouth, “Good afternoon, Miss Camilla. You have company upstairs.”
“Oh?” I said.
The elevator boy is small and fat and, though he has white hair and two of his teeth are missing and show black gaps in his mouth, he is always called the elevator boy; never the elevator man. And the way his eyes are always dancing with something malicious in them when he talks makes him seem much more like the brothers of some of the girls at school than like a grown person. His eyes had that nasty hap­piness in them now, as though he were about to put out a foot and trip me up and then roar with laughter when he saw me fall on my face.
“That Mr. Nissen is upstairs,” he said, grinning. “He asked especially if you was in and then he said he’d go up­stairs and wait for you.”
Yes, I could hear in my mind’s ear how Jacques would ask for me, smiling and speaking in that voice of his as soft as a spaniel’s ear. Yes, I am the one Jacques always asks for. I am like a game between Jacques and the doorman and the old elevator boy, a ball they throw back and forth between them, always smiling, smiling, as though they all understand the game is quite unimportant . . .
So the elevator boy looked at me with that giggly look and stopped the elevator at the fourteenth floor. It is really the thirteenth .oor, but I have noticed that in most apartment houses they just skip thirteen and call it fourteen. This is silly. You can change the number but you can’t change the floor.
I said good-bye to the elevator boy and pulled my key out of the pocket of my navy blue coat and let myself into the apartment. I could hear their voices from the living room. My mother was laughing, high and excited and happy. Don’t ever let my father hear her laugh like that, I begged, but I don’t know to whom I was begging, my mother, or Jacques, or God.
I went down the hall to my room and hung up my coat and my red beret and put my schoolbooks down on the desk. Then I did not sit down and start my homework as I usually do when I get in, but went back toward the living room so that Jacques would be sure to know I was home. I walked heavily, clumping my school shoes down on the silver-green carpet so that he would know before I got to the living room. Then I knocked.
“Come in,” my mother said. “Oh, it’s you, Camilla, dar­ling. How was school? I was saying to Jacques how well you always—your last report card was really—your father and I are most pleased with your progress.”
My mother always talks in little rushes, as though she were in such a hurry to say everything that there isn’t time ever quite to .nish a sentence. Her voice sounds like a brook leaping and tumbling downhill, and broken up and divided by all shapes and sizes of rocks.
I went over to my mother and kissed her and then I shook hands with Jacques. My mother said, “Good heavens, Camilla, your cheek is like ice. Is it raining or— Do you think it will snow tonight, Jacques, it’s really time— Of course I don’t like snow in the city after— But then it’s lovely while it’s falling.” And then she laughed. I don’t know quite what the laugh meant, but I think she just feels free to laugh because she thinks I am so young that I am still like a kitten with eyes that aren’t ready to open yet. But when you are .f­teen you have passed that stage. Fifteen is a strange number of years to be; it is so convenient for my mother and father that I am .fteen because they can always say that I am too young or too old whenever they want to say no about any­thing. Luisa is sixteen and she says it is the same way with her; you lose all the privileges of being a child and get none of the privileges of being grown-up.
“Good afternoon, Camilla,” Jacques said, in that silky way of his. And he looked at my mother. “Yes, Rose, it must have started to rain. Am I right, Camilla?”
“Yes.” I pulled my hand out of his. He did not open his .ngers but held his hand over mine so that I felt his palm all the way as I slid my .ngers out.
“Your lashes are wet,” Jacques said, “and there is rain in your hair. I brought you a present, Camilla.”
“Oh, yes, Camilla, do look at— Jacques brought you a lovely— Yes, Jacques came to—he dropped by just for you—to bring you a present.”
Jacques went to the table that stood under the Carroll portrait of my mother and picked up a package like a small cof.n. He gave it to me. “Perhaps you are too old for this, Camilla,” he said, “but your mother tells me you are learning to sew this year and—”
“Yes, Camilla is learning to sew so beautifully—it will be lovely for her to practice on—all the little dresses and per­haps even some hats—” my mother cried, her voice high and excited.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” my mother asked me.
I opened the package. It was a doll. A large doll with real hair and long black eyelashes and horrible staring blue eyes that rolled in its head as well as opening and closing. And as I lifted it up its tiny rosy mouth opened and there were two rows of cruel little white teeth. I have never liked dolls. Somehow they have always frightened me a little because they are like cartoons of all that is cold and unloving and un­caring in people.
“You see? She has lashes like yours, Camilla. And she’s— she’s really not just a doll for a child, you know.” He seemed suddenly nervous and he pushed his .ngers quickly over his hair, which is thick and wavy and almost as fair as my mother’s.
The doll’s head lolled against my arm and the round, pink mouth closed in a sneer.
“How about your schoolwork—don’t you have home­work to do, Camilla? All that Latin—and is it geometry you were asking your father to— I never could understand geom­etry,” my mother said.
“Yes,” I said to my mother. “Thank you very much for the doll,” I said to Jacques.
I left the room and walked down the hall again. I put the doll down on a chair and it fell over so that it lay with its head on the arm of the chair like a midget who was drunk. Then I remembered I had left the box and the wrappings on the table under my mother’s portrait, so I went back to the living room and this time I did not knock. I don’t know whether I did this on purpose or not, but when I walked into the room, there were Jacques and my mother kissing, as I had known they would be.
“I forgot the box the doll came in,” I said in a loud voice and went over to the table.
Jacques opened his mouth to say something and closed it and then he opened it again and I think that this time he re­ally would have said something, only then we were all frozen into silence by the sound of my father’s key in the lock.
We heard my father come in and the soft thud as he tossed his hat on the hall table and his coat on the chair for Carter, the maid, to pick up. Then my mother went over to the sofa and sat down in front of the coffee table and lit a cigarette.
Her .ngers were as pale and thin as the cigarette and they were trembling. Jacques lit a cigarette, too, and his .ngers were not trembling at all.
My father came into the room and he had a tight smile on his face that did not change when he saw Jacques but simply became a little more tight, the way the braces on my teeth feel when I have just been to the dentist.
“Good evening, Rafferty, my love,” my mother said, and squashed out her unsmoked cigarette in an ashtray. The ciga­rette crumpled and then broke and little bits of tobacco stuck out from the tear. “Camilla says it’s raining. Did you get— Hadn’t you better change your shoes if— Or has it stopped?”
“It’s still raining,” my father said, and he leaned across the coffee table and kissed my mother. Then he nodded to Jacques. “Evening.”
“What time is—or are you early?” my mother asked him.
“I’m early,” my father said. “You’re looking very lovely this evening, Rose.” Then he smiled that tight smile at me, as though it hurt him to move his mouth. “What have you got there, Camilla?”
“A box,” I said.
“And what is the purpose of the box?” My father leaned over the coffee table again, took a cigarette from the silver box, and handed it to my mother. Then he pulled out his lighter and lit it for her. All the while he said nothing and looked at her and she looked back at him with the blue eyes of the doll. And my father seemed to grow until he .lled up the whole room, standing by the coffee table in his dark suit, his cigarette lighter still .aring in his outstretched hand.
“It’s a box a doll came in,” I said.
“A doll?”
Now I knew that Jacques and my mother were glad I had come back into the room when I did. My mother said, “Jacques brought Camilla a doll. Jacques is Camilla’s most ardent admirer.”
“And where is the doll?” my father asked. “Really, Rose, why on earth would anyone give a doll to Camilla? She’s not a child anymore.”
This was the .rst time I had ever heard my father be rude to anyone, and it startled me. I said, “It’s in my room. I came back to get the box.” I looked at Jacques and then at my mother and then at my father. My father is a very large man. He is tall and broad and his body is as solid as a stone. His hair is as strong and de.nite as black marble and the streaks of white that touch his temples are like the markings in mar­ble. His shoulders are as broad as the shoulders on the statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, the one who is holding up the world and looks as though he is slip­ping off his pedestal from the weight of it. But my father’s foot would not slip.
“Fix you a drink, Nissen?” my father asked.
“Thanks—no,” Jacques murmured. “I must be going. I have an appointment downtown.”
I did not wait to hear him say good-bye but slipped out of the living room and went back to my room. I turned off the light. At .rst I could not see anything; for a moment it was like being blind, but then the light came in through my win­dow from the lighted windows of the apartments across the court. I pushed the curtains aside and looked out. When I was much younger I used to think that living on the court was like living partway down the rabbit’s hole in Alice’s Adven­tures in Wonderland. Sometimes Luisa and I will stand by the window and watch it grow dark and tell each other things about the people who live in the other apartments. Or I will try on clear winter nights to show Luisa the stars. You have to lean far out and look up through the rabbit’s hole of build­ings to see them, but when it is very cold and clear I can point out Aldebaran and Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Sirius, the Pleiades and Perseus.
Three sides of the court that form the rabbit’s hole are made up of the big apartment house in which I live. The fourth side is a smaller, lower apartment house, and I can see the roof where there is a big tank with a ladder going up to it, but which I have never seen anybody climb. It is across this roof that I can .nd the most stars. Sometimes on warm days young women will come up onto the roof in bathing suits and spread blankets out and lie in the sun, and in the evening they will come up with young men and watch the moon rise above the broken edges of the city and kiss the way I saw my mother and Jacques kiss. The rooms in this smaller building are different from the ones in our house. They are more clut­tered and the people don’t bother to pull down their shades or close their venetian blinds as often and there are fewer maids turning on lamps and lighting candles on mahogany ta­bles and bustling around kitchens in the evenings. There is something very comforting about kitchens. It always cheers me up to stand by my bedroom window and watch dinner being cooked and imagine things about happy families with lots of children.
I stood there at my window after I had left my mother and father and Jacques saying good-bye, and looked through the veil of falling rain into a big kitchen in the smaller house where a whole family, mother and father and four children and a grandmother, too, were sitting around a big blue kitchen table eating scrambled eggs and bacon for supper. Then my door opened and I heard my father’s voice.
I turned around and he was standing, almost .lling up the doorway, outlined in warm yellow light from the hall.
“Here I am, Father,” I said.
“What are you doing all alone in the dark?”
“Just looking at the rain.”
“That’s a melancholy business,” my father said. “Turn on your light and put on one of your pretty dresses and come out to dinner with me.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Your mother has a headache,” my father said, “so she’s going to bed to have tea and toast, and I thought it might be fun for us to go out cavorting together. How about it?”
“Fine.” I moved away from the window and turned on the light by my desk, blinking against its sharpness.
“I’ll give you half an hour to primp in, and then we’ll go.” My father gave me a clumsy pat on the shoulder and left me.
I went into the bathroom and took a shower and brushed my teeth. Brushing my teeth is a nuisance because of my braces, though it’s easier now that the outside ones are off and I just have them on the inside. While I was brushing my teeth my mother came to the bathroom door in a rose velvet negligee and said, “Camilla darling, when you’re dressed, come to my room and—heavens, darling, you’ve got tooth­paste all over your face—and I’ll .x your hair for you and you can use some of my makeup.” Her face was puckered with anxiety and her eyelashes were just a little damp and stuck-together-looking, as though she had started to cry and then decided against it. Her pale hair was tumbled about her shoulders and it looked softer and more luxuriant than the velvet of her gown. “All right, Camilla darling?”
“All right, Mother,” I said, and started to put the top back on the toothpaste. It slipped out of my .ngers and rolled like a little round black beetle down the slippery sides of the washbasin and into the drain, where I had to .sh and .sh for it with my .ngers; and all the while my mother stood there in the doorway, looking as though she was about to burst into tears, and watched me.
“You can use my tweezers, darling, to get that nasty top if you— Really, they’re lots easier than your .ngers.” But just then I got the top out and rinsed it off and put it back on the toothpaste.
My mother turned to go, saying as she left, “Do hurry now, darling, and don’t keep your father— Rafferty hates to be kept waiting.”
I washed my face again to make sure I got all the tooth­paste off and went back to my room and dressed. I put on the sheer smoky stockings my mother had given me for my birth­day and which I had never worn before and a dress she had bought me that is neither silver nor green, and that changes color as you move in it. It is a very beautiful dress and the one dress-up thing that I have that I really like and don’t feel strange and uncomfortable in. Luisa gets annoyed at me be­cause I care about clothes, but I love pretty things when they seem right for me.
When I went into my mother’s room she was lying on her chaise longue with a soft blanket over her knees, but she got

Excerpted from Camilla by Madeleine l’Engle.
Copyright © 2009 by Madeleine l’Engle.
Published in January 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction
is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or
medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2012

    can't wait to see this into a movie! great book and the characte

    can't wait to see this into a movie! great book and the characters are so realistic

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2003

    Very Disappointing from L'Engle

    I own most of Madeleine L'Engle's books, and this is by far my least favorite. It seems a little too plot-lacking to me, and the ending makes it seem very unfinished, like L'Engle just got tired of writing it and wanted to get done with it real quick. From the author of many of my favorite books, this is a huge disappointment for me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2002

    An Easily Understandable, Fun and Quick Read

    Camilla is the story of a teenage girl caught up in a mature romance, friendship struggles, and parental problems all at once. It is a wonderful book that is easily understood yet entertaining at the same time. While reading it the pages seemed to fly by and I honestly couldn¿t put it down. I would recommend this book to anyone around the ages of 14 to 18 who can relate to the love story between the two teenagers and can learn valuable lessons about independence. Madeline L'Engle is great with her words and makes you feel as though you are the character telling the story. If you haven't read the book yet, here is a quick outline/summary............ Luisa and Camilla are the best of friends. Camilla seems content with her life until she meets Luisa¿s older brother, Frank. One night when Luisa isn¿t home, Camilla and Frank go to a movie together. After the successful night, they see each other more often and their relationship turns into love. Luisa doesn¿t approve of the new relationship and seems to get jealous of Camilla and Frank. As Camilla discovers the affair going on between her mother and another man, she needs Frank and Luisa more than ever. The girl doesn¿t feel anything for her parents anymore and doesn¿t want to be involved with them. Her mother tries to kill herself out of guilt from the tribulations she has put upon her family. Her parents resolve their problem by deciding to move to Italy and send Camilla to a boarding school. Coincidentally, Frank learns that his family is going to move away as well. However, Frank moves without notifying Camilla and she becomes very distraught. The book leaves you wondering if the two communicate after the moves or if they simply go on with their own lives.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2002


    Camilla is a wonderful book. It seems so realistic. She falls in love with Frank, her best friend's brother. At first she doesn't want to admit she does but later on she admits it. The thing is is that Frank has different personalities. One time he's nice and all but the next he's angry. i really like this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2001

    Congrats to Madeline L'Engle on this wonderful book!!

    Wonderful1 I have read almost all of madeline L'Engle's book and they are dreat for any age! Warning page turner alert!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2000

    I Love This Book!!!!!

    I love any L'Engle book I read. I am an aspiring author. If I could ever write anything close to what L'Engle does... her characters are so real you tend to live their lives, get mad at the 'bad' people, I even remember crying when someone dies (I'm not telling who) in A Live Coal in the Sea (which is also about Camilla--a very good book but tends to be soap-operaish in a good way...) This book brought me closer to who I really am. Unfortunately I let my friend borrow it and I'm very much missing it (it should not take more than 5 months to read it i would think!!!! Janay i want my 'camilla' back!!!... Well if you want to read a great book about growing up L'Engle's Camilla is just the ticket!!! (If anyone who is a L'Engle book lover and wants to chat send me an email or IM me at GldCmpsGrl)

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  • Anonymous

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