When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead has quickly become one of those books that I know I will recommend (in my not so subtle you have to read this kind of way) again and again. I am also looking for any excuse to revisit this book – perhaps it should become a book club selection? I will definitely read it to my own children in the next few years (when they hit about 10 years old I think).
It is difficult to categorize this book – it blurs many genres – mystery, fantasy, science fiction (with elements of time travel and frequent references to Madeleine L’Engle‘s A Wrinkle in Time) but really, it reads mostly as realistic fiction (although set a few years back – 1979) This book explores the life of sixth grade Miranda and focuses on her relationships and her understanding of how others struggle with life and interactions all in their own ways. This book tells the story of mysterious notes relaying information to Miranda that no one could possibly know because they have yet to happen. The first note is both thrilling and scary:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter. Second please remember to mention the location of your house key. The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.
Miranda struggles to make sense of who is sending these notes and why. How everything plays out in the end is absolutely fantastic and Stead is able to tie up many loose ends even if the reader has to work to follow the threads and not tangle them up. But don’t try too hard – just let them weave together – as the character Marcus points out:
Einstein says common sense is just the habit of thought. It’s how we’re used to thinking about things, but a lot of time it just gets in the way.
I love how there is a sub plot of Miranda and Richard (Mom’s boyfriend) helping Miranda’s Mom prepare for the show The $20,000 Pyramid. There is so much emphasis on giving the appropriate clues and thinking fast to figure things out. Miranda spends the book figuring things out in a much more organic, subtle way. It is very clever of Stead.
There are so many layers to this novel. The storyline is interwoven with mystery and clues – turns and full stops – but not hugely dramatic – just calm and lovely. The characters are interesting and likeable – even those that don’t feature hugely in the story. I love Miranda’s Mom – her intense love for Miranda, her challenges about committing to her boyfriend and how her level of job dissatisfaction is conveyed by how many office supplies make their way (permanently) into her home. Anne Marie’s Dad has lovely quirky elements – elaborate food making when procrastinating but a deeply protective nature over his daughter. The children in this book have many more freedoms – it being 1979 and not 2011 but the parents are portrayed as very solid figures. Many more interesting characters inhabit this book- the laughing man, Wheelie, the school’s secretary, Alice Evans who is not brave enough to excuse herself to go to the bathroom and compulsive Jimmy who owns the sandwich shop. All play important roles as Miranda navigates her way through the complicated puzzle of friendships, forgiveness and truly heroic deeds.
Highly recommended! On my Middle Grade favourites list.