Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Do you enjoy getting chills? Are you a fan of thoughtful, engrossing, surprising storytelling? How do you feel about books that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading? I’m asking because these are the things you are going to find in When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead’s outstanding second novel. A combination of science fiction and realistic fiction, this unique, well-crafted, and mysterious book will likely grace as many Best of ’09 lists as you can get your hands on, including mine.
The year is 1978. The place is New York City. 12 year old Miranda is in sixth grade and her life is about to get strange. Miranda’s mom is practicing daily in preparation for her upcoming appearance on the $20,000 Pyramid. Her best fried Sal won’t talk to her anymore, and Miranda thinks it has something to do with a random act of violence he experienced while they were walking home from school. Soon, mysterious messages begin to appear in unexpected places. Written to Miranda, the notes contain information that make them impossible to ignore. As Miranda begins to make new friends, the mystery of who is authoring the messages continues to simmer. When the surprising, exhilarating conclusion comes, it takes each individual plot thread and ties a satisfying bow.
The mood here is subtly ominous, the pacing perfect. The unease slowly builds until the moment it all breaks loose. Small storyline seeds get planted every so often and then left, but are always returned to – often when you don’t expect it.
Now I’m going to be frank with you (we’re pals, right?). There is an element of time travel in this book. I hate when books get all “try to understand this” when it comes to time travel. It just seems to slow things down more than it adds to the story. In the case of When You Reach Me, I’m happy to say that the how isn’t really all that important. You don’t need to dissect the how to enjoy the story. If confusion begins to set in, forge ahead – you won’t be puttingÂ yourself at a disadvantage to enjoy what follows.
A book this outstanding is a pleasure to recommend. Add this to your shelf as soon as possible.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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