Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Award this year for When You Reach Me, a book that serves as a mystery, an historical novel, and the story of a lost young girl.

In 1978, Miranda lives with her mother in New York City. She relates the story of four letters that changed her life. They were letters that scared her, indicating that someone was watching her, someone who could predict the future, although the events followed closely enough on the heels of the notes that Miranda remembered the predictions.

At twelve, Miranda's life is changing. She lost her best friend, Sal, on a day when he was punched in the stomach as they walked home from school together. Sal turned his back on her, spending his time playing basketball with other boys. So, Miranda picked up a new friend, Annemarie, when Annemarie had a fight with her friend, Julia. At the same time, Miranda gets to know Marcus, the boy who hit Sal. Her mother, a paralegal, is practicing for her chance on a game show, The 20,000 Pyramid. And, Richard, her mother's boyfriend for two years, would like to move in, but her mother is stalling.

Miranda is a lost soul, hanging on to the story of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, as one friend she can count on. She's not prepared for that book to be the favorite of her enemy. And, she's not prepared for the tragic accident that will hint at the answers to her questions about the four notes, left anonymously.

Rebecca Stead's book, designed for readers from nine to twelve, holds secrets. And, the secret of the strange "laughing man" on the corner was a surprise. However, despite the unusual mystery and the time travel element introduced by the inclusion of A Wrinkle in Time, somehow I missed the quality that made this book a Newbery winner. Or, perhaps it's just me. I enjoyed the book and the mysterious element, but I'm afraid this book didn't excite me as much as I had hoped it would. Even so, When You Reach Me is a book that will last in bookstores and libraries, due to the Newbery Award.

Have you read When You Reach Me? Does Stead's new book belong with the other Newbery winners? And, as I said, it could just be that it didn't excite me as much as A Wrinkle in Time.

Rebecca Stead's website is

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Random House Children's Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780385737425 (hardcover), 199p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

It sounds like it has a lot going on in it!

And...nothing is as wonderful as "A Wrinkle in Time!" That was a life-changing, 4th grade read for me.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...

I totally agree with you about "A Wrinkle in Time," Elizabeth. And, I have that treasured autograph by Madeleine L'Engle in my copy of the book!

Anonymous said...

I read this one some months ago and thought it was quite clever. I remember telling one of our children's librarians about it. I think I liked the fact that it was about something other than vampires, ghosts or fairies, not that I don't love all of those. Anyway, I won't comment about the Newbery question, but I liked it.

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read this one, but I've heard a lot about it. I think I need to give it a try.

Lesa said...

I liked it, too, Kay. It just didn't grab me as much as I had hoped.

Lesa said...


I'll be interested to see what you think.

Kris said...

Yikes! Is it considered historical because it's the year 1978? That's the year I was I feel ancient!

Sounds like an interesting read. I haven't heard anything about this one yet, I'll have to check it out next time I'm at the bookstore.

Sheila Beaumont said...

"A Wrinkle in Time" is a big favorite of mine. As for "When You Reach Me," I enjoyed it, but I thought "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" was even better, and I would have given it the Newbery if it were up to me. I have heard from several people that "When You Reach Me" is better on second reading.

Lesa said...

I'm afraid it is considered historical because of that date. Sorry, Kris. (grin) How do you think I feel? I graduated from undergrad in 1978.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Sheila. So, I'm not the only one. I haven't read "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" yet. Had it home, and had to take it back. I'll have to try it.

Aaron Mead said...

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!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Adam. Excellent summary of the book. I didn't do as thorough a job reading it as I should have, and I should go back sometime and reread it. For example, I missed the chapter headings until I had almost finished the book, so I missed an important element. And, that's my fault, not the book's. I just missed it.

Sheila Beaumont said...

I'd already heard from several people that this book improves on rereading, and after reading Aaron's thoughtful insights, I can really see why it would be well worth reading a second time.

Lesa said...

I think you're right, Sheila. As you said, Aaron's comments seem to indicate I would get much more out of it a second time around.