Thursday, May 6, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Posted by Simcha 8:02 AM, under | 4 comments

I probably would have never given When You Reach Me a chance if it hadn’t been highly recommended by Ann and Michael at Books on the Nightstand. Since their book suggestions have rarely failed me, I decided to give this book a try as well, despite its slim size, large printed font and twelve year old protagonist, features which are rarely present in the books I normally read. But I'm certainly glad that I reserved my judgment in this case because When You Reach Me turned out to be a wonderfully charming book that I highly enjoyed.

It’s 1979 in Upper West Side, New York, and twelve year old Miranda has begun receiving strange notes, mysteriously left for her in private locations, and telling her of events that have not yet come to pass. Understandably shaken by these messages, Miranda attempts to figure out who they could be coming from, but as each event occurs as predicted, there are no answers that make sense.

Perhaps Miranda could have asked her best friend, Sal for advice, except that for some reason he no longer wants to be friends with her, even though they have been together since nursery. Plus the notes request complete secrecy.
… I know you have shared my first note.
I ask you not to share the others. Please.
I do not ask this for myself.
There have been some other strange events lately, such as the missing house key and the sudden appearance of the crazy guy across the street. At school Miranda is forced to seek out some new friends, since Sal has abandoned her, and together they embark on new experiences and adventures. The one steady thing in Miranda’s life is her beloved copy of A Wrinkle in Time, now battered and worn from frequent use.
Mr. Tompkins has left a book on my desk. He was always trying to get me to read something new. This one has a picture of a spunky-looking girl on the cover, and some buildings behind her. I pushed the spunky girl aside, pulled my book out of my desk, and opened it randomly to see where I would land.
As the notes continue to arrive, warning of an approaching disaster, Miranda becomes afraid that one of her friends might be in real danger. But the only thing she can do is follow the instructions given to her, and write down her story as it had occurred.

When You Reach Me is a wonderful gem of a book that had me so captivated from the very first page, that I read the whole thing in one sitting. Miranda’s character is engaging, funny and intelligent, and will appeal to readers of any age. I don’t read much young adult fiction because the protagonists are often too young and immature to keep my interest or they seem unnaturally sophisticated for the age they are meant to be, but Stead manages to create the perfect balance in Miranda.
“Nice tights,” I snorted. Or I tried to snort, anyway. I’m not exactly sure how, though people in books are always doing it.
If I'm afraid of someone on the street, I'll turn to him (it's always a boy) and say, "Excuse me, do you happen to know what time it is?" This is my way of saying to the person "I see you as a friend, and there is no need to hurt me or take my stuff. Also, I don't even have a watch and I'm probably not worth mugging."
The other characters in the story were equally intriguing, from Miranda’s hard working single mother and her almost-perfect boyfriend (almost-because one of his legs is shorter than the other) to the strange, dreamy boy that Miranda keeps running into and the wealthy nemesis who wears diamond rings to school. I was impressed at how well developed each of these side characters were, considering that there were quite a few of them and the book itself is not that long.

While the story was largely grounded in reality, focusing on some of the struggles that any child Miranda’s age might find themselves dealing with, there is also a whimsical dash of the fantastic, which I had not expected (largely because I had not read the back cover). While there were hints that something otherworldly might be going on, I really had no idea of where the story was headed and was delighted with the way events played out in the end.

I ended up pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoying When You Reach Me, as I did have my doubts going in. But I now look forward to many re-reads of this delightful novel and I will be recommending it often to others as well.


Oh, yeah- this one the Newbery Award last year didn't it? Actually, your review has enticed me more than the fact that it won this prestigious award. Those two quoted passages are perfect!

Thanks for the great review Simcha. I'll be adding this to my TBR list. ;-)

Stephanie: I'm also not usually influenced by awards when selecting books to read. I prefer to rely on people whose taste I'm familiar with and whose opinions I trust. The only reason I read this book was because of Books on the Nightstand whose recommendations I completely trust.

Peachy: I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did and I look to reading your opinion of it.

Sounds good; definitely a book I would have overlooked if it hadn't been for your recommendation. Now I might just check it out!

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