November 12, 2012
When You Reach Me
If I were to tell you my one hard-and-fast rule of picking up books that I love to read, that rule would be this: choose a Newbery award recipient. You can shake your head at me and say, "No, those books are for children, didn't anyone tell you?" But I'll tell you what: these books number among my favorites of all time. And all genres. These are seriously some of the best books there are, so don't turn your nose up at them because they were written for children.
I hadn't yet read Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, and I honestly have no idea how I missed it. Well, actually, that's a bit of a lie. Stead's novel was the 2009 recipient, at which time I was thoroughly enmeshed in earning a master's degree and I didn't have much time to read something just because I felt like it. That's how I missed it.
Anyway, Miranda's story takes place in 1978, and she's eleven. She lives in New York City with her mother, who is going to compete on a TV game show. Her mother's boyfriend, Richard, stops in frequently. Her best friend used to be Sal, but he's avoided her ever since some randomly punched him on the street.
And then she starts getting kind of creepy notes from heaven-knows who. Also, she loves the book A Wrinkle in Time, which may not seem pertinent but oh it ends up being pertinent. (Incidentally, A Wrinkle in Time is also a Newbery recipient and I kind of love a Newbery recipient paying homage to an older Newbery recipient because I'm just kind of nerdy like that.)
In the meanwhile, she's making new friends and working a temporary sandwich job just on her lunches and learning generally that things aren't always as they seem.
This book genuinely took me by surprise, which is not something that I often say of books. Characters learned and grew and won money (oh, sorry, gave away what would happen with the game show), and it's very much a tale of growing up. And of sacrifice. And being better than you once were.
And for bonus points, go back and re-read A Wrinkle in Time. I know I likely will.