When You Reach Me

Last year when I was going through a crazy book-acquisition phase—entering giveaways, mooching, and requesting review copies all over the place—I got a copy of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. But, as sometimes happens, my initial enthusiasm for all these shiny new books wore off, and I let this book slip further and further down on my TBR pile, so far down that I nearly forgot about it. When the novel was named the 2010 winner of the Newbery medal, I realized that I’d let it slip, and so I pulled it back to the top of my pile and finally read it this week.

When You Reach Me is about a 12-year-old girl named Miranda who lives in New York City in the late 1970s. Miranda’s world includes her single mom, who quit law school because of her unexpected pregnancy; her mom’s boyfriend Richard, who visits all the time but doesn’t have a key; and her best friend Sal, who lives downstairs. This book is Miranda’s letter to a mysterious someone who has left Miranda a note making uncannily accurate predictions, and requesting a letter in return.

That much we learn early on. What we don’t know is who this letter writer is and what events Miranda is supposed to be writing about. Miranda doesn’t know either; she doesn’t even know where to begin or what details are worth sharing. So she just writes about her daily life—the friendships that come and go, her mom’s dream of appearing on the $20,000 Pyramid, her weird little lunchtime job at a neighborhood sandwich shop, and her obsession with A Wrinkle in Time. Stead fills the book with wonderful details that evoke the period without distracting from the story, and she captures the young adolescent’s process of trying to understand friendships and family relationships and learning that things aren’t always as simple as they appear.

As you can tell, the book itself is built around a puzzle (Who’s leaving these notes? What do they mean?), and the less said about that the better. I’ll just say that it’s very cleverly done, and I enjoyed seeing it unfold. The resolution is not obvious, but it’s also not a huge surprise, which seems just right to me. On the whole, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book for older children that adults too can appreciate.

See other reviews at Books and Chocolate, Save Ophelia, We Be Reading, Children’s Books and Reviews.

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to When You Reach Me

  1. Ronnica says:

    I really liked When You Reach Me. Though it’s kid-appropriate, I actually think it’s better suited for an adult audience as they’ll get it more.

  2. Kristen M. says:

    I’m glad that you got to this one! I was surprised at how much depth was in this quick read. Many older childrens’ books surprise me these days.

  3. litlove says:

    Sounds intriguing!

  4. This sounds rather interesting and enjoyable. I’d seen it in stores but didn’t actually know what it was about.

    • Teresa says:

      Claire: I think a lot of people (including the cover blurb writers) have been a bit vague about what it’s about because if you say much it’s spoiled. I wouldn’t want to know much more than I shared here going into it.

  5. Steph says:

    I have seen this book around, but never really knew what it was about. It does sound fun – the synopsis vaguely reminded me of Foer’s “Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud” (or whatever that book is called!) which I did enjoy last year.

    And I totally feel you on the book request overload. I was definitely in the same boat last year, but am really paring back this year!

    • Teresa says:

      Steph: I can definitely see the similarity to Extremely Loud and Dangerously Close (I think that’s right–I’ve messed up those adverbs before). This is more straightforward and an easier read, being for a younger reader.

  6. JaneGS says:

    I think I would really like this one–sounds diverting.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Hmmmm..this one sounds intriguing and a perfect one for me to slot in between some of the heavier books I am reading lately!

  8. Rebecca Reid says:

    This sounds like fun. When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was by Avi and it was a mystery-chess game to solve. I enjoy puzzles like that in kids books.

    • Teresa says:

      Rebecca: This was fun. And the neat thing is that, while the puzzle is integral to the story, it doesn’t become the story. The characters and setting and everything are just as enjoyable.

  9. Jenny says:

    I love a book with mysterious correspondents. Did you ever read Walk Two Moons? Because this sounds a tiny bit like Walk Two Moons. The characters keep getting these odd enigmatic messages left on their doorstep.

  10. Shannon C. says:

    Loved your review! I was surprised by how good this book was, too. I especially loved the relationship between Miranda and her mom. And I enjoyed the nostalgic feel of the story as well.

    • Teresa says:

      Shannon: The relationships were wonderfully done. My favorites were her relationships with her friends. And yes on the nostalgia factor. I’m not that much younger than Miranda was in 1978, so I could remember a lot of the stuff she talked about.

  11. gaskella says:

    Another to add to the wishlist I think….

  12. Aaron Mead says:

    Here’s what I love about this book. First, of course, the compelling mystery. Stead gives the mystery depth beyond the mere content of the notes by lacing the book with the science fiction theme of time travel. The most obvious way this theme shows up is in conversations Miranda has with certain friends—in particular Marcus, a math and physics prodigy who thinks time travel is theoretically possible. However, time travel is also woven into the book via Miranda’s attachment to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (the only book Miranda reads), a book in which the protagonist, Meg, travels through time to save her family members.

    Second, I love Stead’s focus on the theme of friendship. Specifically, the novel addresses the question of how to hold on to old friendships without stifling them, and it insightfully brings out the stabilizing effect that new friendships can have in the effort to preserve or reclaim old ones. I’m holding back here in order not to spoil the plot, but suffice to say that the novel’s narrative reflections on friendship are extremely thoughtful and resonant. This theme of friendship will speak deeply to tweens navigating the frequently tumultuous social world of middle school.

    Finally, the book is also just very clever. For example, Miranda’s mother wants to win on The $20,000 Pyramid. The final part of the game show is called the “Winner’s Circle”, in which a set of objects is described to the contestant and she is required to say what category the objects belong to. So, if the objects were “a tube of toothpaste, someone’s hand” the contestant would say “things you squeeze”. Stead cleverly titles most of the chapters in the book with categories like that, such as “Things You Keep in a Box,” “Things That Go Missing,” and “Things You Hide.” And sure enough, Stead puts objects in each chapter that fit into these titular categories. After a while, it became a fun extra game to find what the “things that smell” or “things that kick” were in the chapter I was reading!

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Aaron. I loved the reflections on friendship as well–both how to maintain old friendships and how to make and understand new friends. And that’s a great observation about the chapter titles! I didn’t pick up on that at all, but it is very clever.

  13. amber says:

    this book was amizing!

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