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.