Author: Rebecca Stead
Genre: Realistic fiction/science fiction
Target Audience: Middle-grade (but everybody will love this)
Number of Pages: Hardcover - 208 pages
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.
But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late. - Summary from Goodreads
When You Reach Me is the quintessence of an adorable read.
My reading habits tend to stray away from middle-grade fiction after my elementary school ship sailed, yet I couldn't resist the muted pastel cover, now embellished with a gleaming Newbury Medal, and lauding reviews. After walloping this delicious gem of a novel in one sitting, I felt the sudden urge to read it again. And again. This fairly short book is separated into many chapters, each one charmingly titled "Things that...", the last word connecting to the chapter's content. It tells of comradeship, families, and growing up in the seventies, the plot lured on by the momentum of looming mystery. The author merges science fiction with normal seventies life in a subtle and elegant way, managing to give the book an original spin while still preserving the realistic fiction side.
Miranda narrates her explorations of sixth grade life in the late seventies, which is punctuated by obscure notes from an anonymous sender. The author executes this mystery beautifully. An amazing protagonist and overall good role model, Miranda is endearing, humorous, and flawed. This book swells with realistic tween turmoil, but caring about the drama is inevitable due to Miranda's honest, relatable voice, giving a unique scope to what I normally call cliche plot lines: broken friendships, boy drama, and tense mother-daughter relations. Towards the end, a light film of science fiction layers over the realistic, furnishing the book with a refreshing quirk. This book concludes quickly in a brilliant fashion; everything clicks together perfectly.
The author's lucid, quiet writing gracefully crafts Miranda's story, including small details that together construct a wonderful whole. The reader will learn of the freedom children had, roaming around the city by themselves. Told not necessarily in chronological order, the reader will assemble the pieces of storyline that Stead drops. While not at all sermonizing, this book shows Miranda's consequences for doing acts of right and wrong, and overall displays the astounding action of redemption.
This delightful coming of age novel prompts me to read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, Miranda's favorite book that plays a key role in the plot. Though not my absolute favorite, When You Reach Me is one best examples of middle-grade fiction I've read in a long time, and it rightfully deserves its Newbury Award. It's a high priority on my re-read list!
Cover: 4.5/5 - At first glance, the cover seemed like an average city block, and I didn't pay attention to the haphazard placement of objects. The cover obtained more meaning as I read through the book, and I kept flipping back and having epiphanies as I realized what each object stood for.