Friday, July 23, 2010

When You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me

Miranda is twelve years old, in the sixth grade, and her best friend, Sal, has decided he doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore. Plus, her paralegal mother is obsessed with trying to become a contestant on the game show the $20,000 Pyramid, their apartment is shabby and kind of embarrassing, her mom’s boyfriend (who’s great) wants a key to their apartment but her mom won’t give him one, and the crazy homeless guy who lives on the corner talks to her every time she comes in and out of the building.

At least she has her favorite book – A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L’Engle. Even that has a downside, though. Marcus – the weird kid Miranda had never seen until he walked up to her and Sal on the street and inexplicably punched Sal in the nose and the stomach, which seemed to somehow make Sal decide he didn’t want to be friends with her anymore – is really interested in time travel, and when he sees Miranda reading A Wrinkle in Time he decides she must really be interested in it too. So, she has to deal with Marcus’ weird ramblings on time travel. Infuriatingly, while Miranda doesn’t get what he’s talking about, Julia – the rich, pretty girl who is the rival for the affections of Miranda’s new friend, Annemarie – seems to understand him perfectly.

Even more disturbingly, someone is leaving notes for Miranda. Small, strange notes addressed to her, telling her about things she’ll do in the future, making predictions that come true about small events going on in Miranda’s life. Who could be writing these notes? How are they delivering them? How does this mysterious author know what’s going to happen to Miranda?

As Miranda tries to unravel the mystery of the notes, she’s also trying to figure out an even bigger puzzle – herself. Why doesn’t Sal want to be friends anymore? How can she make sure Annemarie likes her more than she likes Julia? Does Colin – another friend – like her or Annemarie? More importantly…how can Miranda be the sort of person who has friends, who people like? Does it mean being like her mom, who does all kinds of free legal cases and brings donations to pregnant prisoners? Does it mean being like Julia, and being better than everyone else? Where does Miranda fit in the midst of all these expectations?

All of these problems come to a head in a dramatic confrontation involving Sal, Marcus and the Laughing Man. I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I don’t want to give away what was truly an awesome ending, but it is very powerful, and has powerful consequences for all the characters involved. Combine that with an appearance by Miranda’s mom on the $20,000 Pyramid, and Miranda is able to make some of those important decisions about who she wants to be.

This was a great book – fun, interesting with a great twist. It is the 2010 Newbury Medal Winner, and it is clear to see why! The story is set in New York City in 1979, and I enjoyed the little touches of seventies nostalgia, which are strong enough to entertain an adult reader, but subtle enough to be un-noticed or not distracting to a young adult reader. Miranda is a very engaging heroine – she is smart and funny, has a touch of attitude but knows it and is sorry –most of the time – when she’s mean, although she doesn’t always admit that to the people she hurts. And her efforts to become a nice person are sweet – the “heroic” acts that she engages in (becoming a bathroom buddy for the girl who still wets her pants) are so right for someone her age. An adult might not think this was a big deal, but to a middle-schooler, this is a major act of self-sacrifice. Also, anyone who’s ever been shunned by a friend will understand the hurt Miranda feels when she’s dropped by Sal, and the desperation that drives her to find another friend.

My favorite part of this book was probably the sci-fi, time travel twist. Having it worked into the story line via allusions to Madeline L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time(also a Newbery Award-winning book) is a genius twist – it foreshadows the time travel motif before it is officially introduced, and, hopefully, it will inspire some readers to check out A Wrinkle in Time. The time travel story line also helps to reinforce the theme that all people are important and have feelings – even weird or crazy people – without being at all preachy about it.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It was fun, fast-paced and believable. I didn’t see the twist at the end coming, which makes me enjoy a story so much more (even though I admit I do enjoy the smug feel that accompanies spotting a plot twist in progress :) ). This would be a great book for the younger echelon of young adult readers, though older readers will certainly enjoy it as well.

This is a blast-from-the-past image:
it's the cover art from my copy of
A Wrinkle In Time that I read when
I was about Miranda's age.

1 comment:

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