Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Friday, February 19, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
"Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late."- summary from Amazon

So for many months, I have been reading about how awesome this book was from various authors. And then recently, it won the Newbery. And I happened to see it in my local library; usually awards don't mean much to me, but seeing all the rave reviews and the fact that it won an award, it made me want to read the book. It also helped that the book was short (under 200 pages), had a big font, and had short chapters. What can I say? If a book has those and it's not in my review pile, I'm more likely to pick it up.

Well anyway, I enjoyed this book. It was different than I had expected, in a good way. But it took me until finishing the book to really enjoy it and even figure out if I liked it. The plot revolves around this mystery and so once everything is revealed, it all makes sense. Seemingly innocuous events became much more important, characters became a larger part of the overall story. It's an odd book, but a good one.

I enjoyed the links to time travel and the novel A Wrinkle in Time; it's been a while since I've read A Wrinkle in Time, but this made me want to re-read it sometime in the near future. Miranda's obsession with it was a fun addition to the plot. The book flows along well and it's difficult to put the book down because you want to know what happens next. I did kinda figure out part of the climax way before it happened, which doesn't happen often to me so I reveled in it for a while.

The characters were very fun to read about, and none of them felt flat at all to me. Despite the short length, each character was well-rounded and had depth. I also liked the setting of the late 70s; not many MG/YA books utilize that time period or even anything near it, so it was a nice change of pace. Overall, this was a wonderful book and one I think everyone should read.


  1. I liked how you mention that things tie together nicely in the end. I love books where everything seems separate and then has a distinct thread and flow at a certain point. This one's been on my to-read because of the connection to A Wrinkle in Time. I think it would be fun to read this one and A Wrinkle in Time in tandem. So fun also to see a YA or kids novel set in that time period.

  2. Yes, it's definitely one of those books that you don't get completely until the last few pages.

    I reread WRINKLE just before, so that helped. I did love this novel! So perfect for MG.


  3. Great review! This one has been on my list for a while but someone told me I should read A Wrinkle in Time first.

  4. 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!

  5. Aaron- OMG!! Thank you for that wonderful, insightful comment! Loved hearing your thoughts on this great book.