Week 19 Part 2–When You Reach Me

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of rave reviews, but here’s another one.  When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was one of the best young adult novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a good long while.  It won the Newbery Medal in 2010, which is the most prestigious award a children’s author can win.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0375850864&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrWhen You Reach Me tells the story of twelve-year-old Miranda growing up in Manhattan in the 70s.  She has recently had a falling out with her best friend Sal for reasons unknown to her, and is struggling greatly to deal.  In addition to this, the spare key to the apartment she shares with her mother goes missing, and she finds a mysterious note from a stranger telling her that he will save her friend’s life, and that she must write him a letter telling the entire story.  Obviously, Miranda is mystified by this and the three letters which she receives afterward.  The reader cannot help but be sucked in by this strange turn of events as well. Who is this seemingly psychic stranger, and why does Miranda’s life and the life of her friend matter so much to him?

The story is told from Miranda’s point of view, and it seems as though she is speaking in the first person until she occasionally uses the words “you” and “your,” indicating to the reader that she is actually using the second person to address the stranger whose letters have been reaching her.  As the novel progresses, the reader also realizes that the book being read is the letter she was asked to send.  All of the things that puzzle the reader are kept veiled until nearly the last chapter, when several swift events happen at once to explain everything that has been puzzling Miranda: who the letter-writer is, how he knows the future, why Sal is suddenly ignoring her, and why the “laughing man” stands on the street corner and swings imaginary kicks at passing cars.

In addition to being utterly mind-boggling, there are several things which recommend the novel.  The first is Miranda herself. She is a sweet girl on a journey of self-discovery, and Stead has done a miraculous job of capturing the voice of a confused but blooming girl.  When she is, as she sees it, abandoned by her best friend Sal, Miranda faces a lot of questions about herself, inevitably wondering what she has done to offend him, or if there is something wrong with her.  As she makes new friends and even experiences her first crush, she discovers both her virtues and her vices. One cannot help but love the voice of this preteen, whose favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time (she obviously has fantastic literary taste) and who loves her mom and her friends strongly and deeply.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0312367546&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrA Wrinkle in Time plays very strongly into this novel, even somewhat tying into the mystery that Miranda experiences.  She often tries to channel Meg, asking herself what Meg would do in a situation similar to what Miranda is experiencing at the time.  I highly recommend that someone who is going to read When You Reach Me read A Wrinkle in Time first, because there would be a few things difficult to understand if the reader does not first have an understanding of A Wrinkle in Time.  There is a huge connection between the two, and they are both fantastically written books.

One review calls this novel a “realistic novel with a heart of fantasy,” and this is the perfect phrase to sum up the novel.  Other than the length and font-size, I hardly noticed that I was reading a novel for juveniles, and I would recommend this for anyone.  I also think that this is a great novel for teachers, either to read for enjoyment or to teach in a class. Definitely a gem.

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