A Wrinkle in Time
Back when I was a wee nerdlet in the grade school gifted program, this was definitely a Series To Read. I think I read all four, but honestly, at this point that's a little hazy. I only really remember this one and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
This past week, I lost an aunt and an uncle, in unrelated circumstances, which made for a pretty damn crappy time. I'm glad I was rereading Wrinkle, which is a hopeful little book, and not some Russian soul-killer.
L'Engle doesn't bother to specify one misery as the main villain driving the dystopian elements. Yes, IT ("the Happiest Sadist" - a great phrase) powers the conformity of Camazotz culture, but IT is only one face of that larger pall. Look at the names given as examples of those who have fought the good fight against this universal enemy: Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Bach, Einstein, Euclid. Discovery, love, peace, empathy and affection for your fellow beings. It's no wonder that so many of the hippie-raised kids I knew growing up were given this book early on in their reading.
And it's just a great story. You've got all the right elements for a kid's tale: missing parent, daring rescues, strange creatures, wide travels, new thoughts, misfits finding their places. Now I want to find a grade school student with a quick mind and hand over my copy.