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Rebecca Stead – When You Reach Me

August 12, 2011

99. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009)

Read By: Cynthia Holloway
Length: 4h 20m (167 pages)

Genre: Mid-grade, with a touch of Science Fiction

Started: 23 July 2011
Finished: 30 July 2011

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Darla’s fault.

If I were going to
time travel, I don’t think I’d
pick the ’70s.

Summary: Sixth-grader Miranda’s life is not particularly extraordinary. She lives with her mother, who dreams of winning big on The $20,000 Pyramid, in a small New York apartment; she reads her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, over and over again; and she walks to school every day with her best friend and downstairs neighbor, Sal. But everything starts to change on the day that Sal gets punched by a neighborhood tough kid on his way home from school. Miranda must navigate the changing tides of friends and enemies amongst her classmates, and, as if that weren’t enough, she starts receiving strange, impossible notes from someone who claims that he is coming to save her friend’s life.

Review: For me, the main reason I was attracted to this book in the first place was its connection to A Wrinkle in Time, which, like Miranda, I also read over and over as a kid. (Although I preferred A Swiftly Tilting Plant, but that’s neither here nor there.) I don’t think I realized initially that it was mid-grade rather than young adult fiction, although the age of its protagonist clued me in pretty quickly. The good news was that I enjoyed it way more than is normal for most mid-grade books; Stead manages to make Miranda’s voice believable for her age without making the book seem dumbed-down or like it was pandering to the grade school set. The plot is very evocative of familiar grade-school issues, but it also has enough nuances to keep adult readers engaged. The only time I got annoyed with the age level was during a discussion of the paradoxes of time travel; Miranda simply could not understand how you could arrive somewhere before you left, despite several explanations by her better-informed (or more imaginative) classmates, which made her come off rather dim, in contrast to the intelligence she displays throughout the rest of the book.

This book is difficult to classify in terms of genre as well as age. In that way, it’s similar to Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord: most of it reads like normal fiction, with the fantasy/sci-fi elements only showing up near the end. When You Reach Me does a nice job of integrating them into the story, though, so that the fact that it’s science fiction and not general fiction sort of sneaks up on you as you read. I suppose one could call it a mystery, although I didn’t find it particularly mysterious, especially after about the halfway point. It also struck me as almost historical fiction, in its way; a lot of emphasis is placed on the late ’70s setting, and I wondered how many of its elements would be recognizable to grownups but completely foreign to today’s 6th graders.

Overall, while I didn’t find this book to be a knockout the way many people did, I did think it was sweet, enjoyable, and with a level of sophistication beyond what its size might suggest. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: The obvious recommendation is for folks who, like me, grew up on A Wrinkle in Time, but I also think people that enjoy good-hearted kids’ books that aren’t as straightforward as they appear will get a kick out of it as well.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Becky’s Book Reviews, The Book Nest, It’s All About Books, Polishing Mud Balls, Ready When You Are, C. B., Rhapsody in Books Weblog, S. Krishna’s Books, Stainless Steel Droppings, Steph Su Reads
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: So Mom got a postcard today.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2011 9:09 am

    Didn’t this book win a big award? It’s been on my radar for a while. Thanks for the review.

    • August 15, 2011 10:27 am

      Kathy – It did win the Newbery last year, although I didn’t realize that when I started listening.

  2. August 12, 2011 10:16 am

    I really wanted to read this book because of the A Wrinkle in Time connection, too. Overall I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it like some other people.

    • August 15, 2011 10:28 am

      Kailana – Agreed; it was definitely enjoyable but it’s not going to make my top of the year list.

  3. August 12, 2011 11:25 am

    Yes, it won the Newbery Medal, and judging it on its own merits (since I didn’t read the other nominees) I think it was well deserved. I don’t read much fiction for this age range, but whenever I do I am so pleased when it turns out to be such a wonderful book like this one.

    I agree that Stead does a good job of making Miranda sound and think in an age appropriate way and yet the style of writing and the little quirks of characters and setting are very engaging for an adult reader. I listened to the audio version of the book and just loved it. One of my favorite reads from last year.

    • August 15, 2011 10:30 am

      Carl – Now I’m really curious as to what the other nominees were like! The audio version was really well-done, I thought; the narrator did a nice job of sounding young without sounding immature, if that makes sense.

  4. August 12, 2011 7:51 pm

    I agree with you – I enjoyed this book, but it didn’t wow me. I don’t think I would have given it a Newbery. Of course, I didn’t read every other book that was published that year, so maybe it really was the best book of the year.

    • August 15, 2011 10:31 am

      Emily – Do you know what the other nominees were? I’m curious…

  5. August 14, 2011 6:06 am

    I can’t wait to read this one.

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