The moment I heard about When You Reach Me, I went immediately to my library's website and put the book on hold. I had heard that it was an homage to A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorite books as a child, and also that it involved time travel and some fabulous twists and surprises. That's all I needed to know.
I was even more excited when I heard that it had won the Newbery Award - and became doubly impatient for my copy to arrive. When it finally came in, I decided to read it to my daughters (nine and eleven years old), because it seemed like a good fit. It was better than a good fit - it was a perfect fit. They were mesmerized by the story; they loved Miranda; they enjoyed her evolving relationships with her friends and her family, and they absolutely adored the twists and surprises. It is the kind of book that offers a lot of fodder for discussion - fun discussion, not obligatory class-type discussion, and we had a great time talking about the book when we weren't reading it, speculating about what was going to happen, and about what certain events might mean.
It seems almost redundant to write a review of a Newbery winner - there are hundreds of reviews out there, and it goes without saying that it is well written, meaningful and moving. Still, I reviews what I reads, and I has fun doing it, so here it is. Feel free to skip the rest and go find a copy of this book. You already know more than I did when I opened the book, and I think the less you know, the more fun you'll have.
For those of you who are still following, I still won't tell you much about the plot. The book is set in New York City in the 70s. I would have been just about Miranda's age back then, which made the book extra fun for me (and also for my kids, who enjoyed hearing about my memories of the time as they related to Miranda's life). Miranda is writing to an unnamed person, for an unknown reason. She has received some mysterious notes, which at first seem random and unbelievable, but eventually convince her that she has a role to play in preventing the death of someone close to her. It is a puzzle, something she needs to figure out while still navigating the pitfalls and revelations of friendship and family relationships.
The story is a wonderful and compelling mix of genres - it's a coming of age story, and a mystery, a problem/friendship book, with a little romance, and a science fictional element that will make you stop in your tracks and say, ''Oh, I get it." And then you'll want to go back and read the story all over again. Which is exactly what my nine-year-old is doing - she picked the book up the day after we finished it and is reading it over from the beginning, appearing to enjoy it every bit as much as she did the first time around.
Miranda is very real, and her narration is evocative and skillful - and never, ever strays from her very distinct twelve-year-old voice. And even though a girl is telling this story, there is plenty here for boys to relate to, and I think any initial resistance to reading a "girl story" will vanish within a few pages. It isn't necessary to have read A Wrinkle in Time before starting this book, but having read it will give readers that satisfying feeling of being in the loop when Miranda talks about her favorite book in the world. Those who haven't read it are sure to want to as soon as they've finished When You Reach Me. In fact, my eleven-year-old came home from school with a copy of A Wrinkle in Time to reread the day after we finished this book!
I am so happy this novel has received the recognition it has - it is an unforgettable tale, moving and funny and bittersweet. I highly recommend it, to children and adults alike. For best results, read it together!
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "If I were trying to sell this book--book talk it if you will--I'd say that it was a loving tribute to the children's classic, A Wrinkle In Time."
Jen Robinson's Book Page: "The plot keeps readers guessing, and eagerly turning the pages for more clues, while certain passages will make them stop and think."
Maw Books Blog: "It’s also the type of book that as soon as you close the very last page, you want to open the first one again and start all over again."