Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery)I have to make a terrible, terrible confession.

I haven't found a book that I like by Madeleine L'Engle. I've wanted to; when I was wee, I checked out her books over and over. They had beautiful, memorable titles: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Titling Planet, A Ring of Endless Light. I think I just read some of these at the wrong age, wrong place. I wish that I had that secret glow so many people get when they say Madeleine. Someday, I'd like to take a look at some of her other work, but those oft-mentioned titles are the ones I've tried and had recommended to me.

So, terrible confession #2: It's probably good that when When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Random House - Yearling) was getting all that non-specific buzz a while back, I got it confused with other books. I didn't know it was set in late 1970s Manhattan--set in a decade I'm really not all that fond of. That's it's written in homage, really, to A Wrinkle in Time. It's probably good that I didn't know a thing about this book going in except that everybody loved it.

And terrible confession #3: A couple of years ago, I read a great article in Scientific American that explained time as a flexible dimension in a way that I understood for all of a couple of hours. I perceive time as passing, and I am amazed and awed by theories like presentism. Otherwise, I just hang out and enjoy Back to the Future every now and then.

When You Reach Me is a whole bunch of these things. Miranda is just a sixth-grader who likes to read A Wrinkle in Time a lot. Her mom has a new boyfriend, and her mom wants to go on the $20,000 Pyramid. Miranda's best friend wants to pull away a little, now that he's hanging out with other boys. The biggest disruptor in her life, however, is a series of strange notes that claim to be about her future. Miranda has to unravel the story of her changing family, an unpredictable neighborhood bully, a homeless man, and a new and more complicated peer group all while figuring out the source of the mysterious notes.

There are so many really great things about When You Reach Me that I don't know where to begin. The story is told in Miranda's voice, and there's the dual experience of discovering the story as you read and discovering the story as Miranda has, as she slips in the details from a position of understanding at some later date; together, this creates a very satisfying forward motion and a fascinating narrative structure. As I mentioned earlier, A Wrinkle in Time plays a strong role in Miranda's story, and it adds another interesting layer as the characters discuss time travel, but knowledge of A Wrinkle in Time is not necessary to understand When You Reach Me. What I may have liked best is that Miranda and her friends were able to move within the story: with MG books, I often find that the characters depend entirely on adults--or that there are no adults at all, or that every tough choice doesn't need the characters' input, or...

Reading When You Reach Me felt like going back to the classics like Harriet the Spy and Anastasia Krupnik, where the presence of adults was important, but the child characters were separate and important beings. It's a truly worthwhile read, and a truly memorable one.

When You Reach Me and Ninth Ward brought me back to reading middle grade books. I would love recommendations for more outstanding books like these.


  1. To be completely honest, I *loved* "A Wrinkle in Time" when I was a tween so I was really stoked about reading this book, but it left me feeling "blah". I had a lot of issues with the book, which you can see from my own review from last year.

  2. I will have to look it up! I was a little confused by the ending, but I have been chalking that up to my fear of physics.

  3. I need to plug my favourite, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. also, I've been reading a lot of recent MG lately--I really enjoyed The Dreamer, One Crazy Summer and Cosmic :)

  4. I put those on my wishlist. But I put e-books on my list, and I have this recollection that WMMM I should maybe buy another way? That it's really nicely illustrated? (And for some reason, I thought it was a picture book, even though I've had the title in my head for ages. Eep.)


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