Sunday, May 6, 2012

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. 2009. When You Reach Me Cover. Cover art by Sophie Blackall. From

Stead, Rebecca. 2009. WHEN YOU REACH ME. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN: 9780385737425

There’s a lot going on in twelve year old Miranda’s life. She’s helping her mother prepare to compete on the TV game show, THE $20,000 PYRAMID, her long-time best friend isn’t speaking to her, she’s trying to navigate the friendship waters of her classroom, and to top it all off she is receiving mysterious letters from a time traveler. As Miranda struggles to understand the complexities of friendship, as well as time travel, she constantly returns to her favorite book, L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME. Not only does Miranda feel a special kinship with Meg, but as the story progresses the reader begins to see how important time, both linear and non-linear, is to both of their stories. Set in New York City in 1979, Miranda’s story is part historical fiction, part time traveling fantasy, and part mind-challenging mystery. Miranda begins with a lot of questions: Why did Marcus punch Sal? Why does the homeless laughing man sleep with his head under the mail box? Who is the enigmatic letter writer and how does he/she know so much about Miranda? As Miranda tells her story in non-linear episodes, the seemingly unrelated pieces of the mystery begin to fall into place to create a complex interlocking puzzle.

Miranda’s story is almost entirely grounded in reality, however it is the added twist of time travel that pushes this story from contemporary realism/historical fiction into low fantasy. Time is an important theme in the book, from time travel to understanding that sometimes friends just need space and time. The story is written in first person from Miranda’s point of view, but the events are not presented chronologically. The chapters skip around in time, which adds to the suspense of the book. The more Miranda learns about time the more she realizes that her words and actions, however small and seemingly insignificant, can have a huge impact, like a drop of rain causing a giant ripple in a pond.

The multicultural cast of characters feel like a natural part of urban New York City in 1979. Miranda is a street-smart latchkey kid who knows her neighborhood very well and by the end of the book, so do the readers. Stead has created fully developed characters with distinctive personalities. For instance, Annemarie has dietary restrictions, an issue relevant to modern kids, but she also has a crush on Colin and a complex best-friendship with Julia. There is equal distribution of gender among the characters in the story.  Miranda has peers of both genders and the adults in her world range from her single-parent mother to Jimmy, the owner of the neighborhood sandwich shop.

The style of writing is conversational, filled with slang and occasional references that keep the book historically grounded. Dialogue is blended seamlessly into Miranda’s narrative, which pushes the story forward at a brisk pace. Although Miranda’s world is clearly New York City in 1979, the themes of the book are universal. The book follows Miranda’s journey to accepting that friendships are complex and ever evolving.  She learns what it means to be a good friend and that having more than one friend does not mean that any one friendship means less.

The book is heavily influenced by Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s book, A WRINKLE IN TIME. Miranda carries her copy of the book with her at all times and has conversations about the book with several characters. Her love for the time traveling story of Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace creates a framework that makes conversation about time travel seem natural. When Miranda realizes that someone in her life is a time traveler, the idea has already been planted in the reader’s mind and is therefore easier to accept.

Although the ending has happy elements, such as Miranda’s mother winning the game show, the story ultimately ends with sobering acceptance on Miranda’s part. The final chapters of the book weave the seemingly unrelated pieces of Miranda’s story together into a mind and time-bending conclusion. Kids will want to reread the book to find and piece together the clues that Stead has planted along the way.

Book Sense Book of the Year
IRA Children’s Book Award
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winner
Indies’ Choice Book Award Winner
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

Starred review in BOOKLIST: “The '70s New York setting is an honest reverberation of the era; the mental gymnastics required of readers are invigorating; and the characters, children and adults, are honest bits of humanity no matter in what place or time their souls rest.”

Review in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Miranda's voice rings true with its faltering attempts at maturity and observation. The story builds slowly, emerging naturally from a sturdy premise. As Miranda reminisces, the time sequencing is somewhat challenging, but in an intriguing way. The setting is consistently strong. The stores and even the streets-in Miranda's neighborhood act as physical entities and impact the plot in tangible ways.”

Review in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Eventually and improbably, these strands converge to form a thought-provoking whole. Stead…accomplishes this by making every detail count, including Miranda's name, her hobby of knot tying and her favorite book, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.”

Review in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “She [Stead] skillfully weaves written notes into each scene and repeats clues when necessary. The climax is full of drama and suspense. This story about the intricacies of friendship will be a hit with students.”

Review in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “With quick vocal strokes, Corduner paints vivid, provocative portraits of Germans and Jews under unfathomable duress and the ripple effect such circumstances have on their lives.”

*Read this book before or after reading A WRINKLE IN TIME. You could also read passages from the book aloud. Why do you think Miranda likes this book and its protagonist so much? Are there similarities between Miranda and Meg? How have these books changed the way you think about time?
L’Engle, Madeleine. 1962. A WRINKLE IN TIME. ISBN 978-1299700284

*Play your own version of THE $20,000 PYRAMID. Refer to page 12 and 39 for the basic rules. Make two sets of index cards: common words for the first round and categories for the Winner’s Circle round.

*Other novels that include time travel:
Bakke, Kit. 2011. DOT TO DOT. ISBN 978-1456368043
Buckley-Archer, Linda. 2007. THE TIME TRAVELERS. ISBN 978-1416915263
Gutman, Dan. 2010. ROBERTO AND ME. ISBN 978-0061234842
Jones, Diana Wynne. 1987. A TALE OF TIME CITY. ISBN 0-688-07315-8
Mass, Wendy. 2009. 11 BIRTHDAYS. ISBN 978-0545052399
Wells, Rosemary. 2010. ON THE BLUE COMET. ISBN 978-0763637224

*Other novels by Rebecca Stead:
2010. FIRST LIGHT. ISBN 978-0440422228
2012. LIAR AND SPY. ISBN 978-0385737432

No comments:

Post a Comment