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Review: “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead

October 6, 2010

When Rebecca Stead’s middle grade novel When You Reach Me won the Newbery earlier this year, I  meant to read it right away. Now, nine months later, I finally got to it. I devoured it in a single day.

When You Reach Me Cover

Miranda is a pretty typical 12-year-old. She adores Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She lives with her mother in a New York City apartment in 1979, goes to school with a pretty typical array of kids, negotiates the sticky social world of sixth grade. Her mother’s boyfriend, Richard, has been around for a few years now, even though he still doesn’t have his own key to their apartment. As the book opens, Miranda’s mother has just won a spot on The $20,000 Pyramid, hosted by Dick Clark. Miranda helps her mother practice for the show, and together they dream about what they’ll do with the money they win. It’s a nice story, well written but not particularly extraordinary.

Except that Miranda keeps finding the strangest notes. And then every once in a while, instead of narrating in the first person and talking about everyone else in the third, she’ll start addressing someone as “you.” These odd dissonances in her otherwise normal life are what carry the story forward.

Everyone says the Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time references are what they loved most about this book. I’ve even heard some people go so far as to say you shouldn’t bother reading When You Reach Me if you aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s classic, because you probably won’t enjoy it if you don’t understand the references. I beg to differ. Sure, the references were interesting, and the book wouldn’t have meant quite as much without them. But I haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time for a while, and I’m sure I missed a lot of the references. I still adored the book. What I loved most was not the A Wrinkle in Time connection; it was the ending.

Clearly, I am not going to tell you how When You Reach Me ends. Suffice to say that the way Stead writes, it’s like you are having every “Aha!” moment right along with Miranda. I was exhilarated, reading the final pages, finally understanding where all the pieces fit. And they fit beautifully. It is worth reading When You Reach Me just for the experience of unraveling the mystery alongside Miranda. Elegant, poignant, and bittersweet, those last pages totally made the book.

That’s all I have to say. Read it, regardless of whether you’ve read A Wrinkle in Time. Each page may not be as saturated with meaning for you if you haven’t, but it’s still a lovely book with a perfect ending. That much will be there, whether you’re a L’Engle buff or not.

10 Comments
  1. October 6, 2010 8:27 am

    After all the good reviews, I expected to devour this one too, but instead, I couldn’t get past the first 10 or 15 pages. I ended up giving the book to my sons, who all seem to like it. Ah well.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 6, 2010 8:55 am

      I almost stopped reading it, too. It was like the last 25 pages that, for me, jumped the book from 3 stars up to 5. I’m happy your boys enjoyed it!

  2. October 6, 2010 9:50 am

    I love it when a book has a good ending. If I start this, and find it a slog, I will jump to the end and read it, and that way I will know the book ends up being worthwhile. :)

    • Erin permalink*
      October 6, 2010 10:16 am

      Ha, no! You need to be confused along with Miranda for most of the book, I think, for the ending to be as cool. Plus, you have to meet all the characters and scenes that figure in the ending. But it only took me a few hours to read, so it won’t be too much of a slog to just persevere right through!

  3. October 6, 2010 10:12 am

    It does take a while for the story to get going, but once it does it’s spectacular. One of my favorite reads of the year!

    • Erin permalink*
      October 6, 2010 10:17 am

      Hooray, I’m glad you agree! I almost think the slow, confusing beginning makes the ending that much better, when everything starts coming together. I’m with you…definitely a favorite!

  4. Jess permalink
    October 7, 2010 12:02 pm

    I liked this book but didn’t love it. Mostly I’m just thrilled to have read a book before Erin did!! My book club read it last month.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 8, 2010 4:14 pm

      Nice! Yep, I was waaaay behind on this one. By the way, I’m currently listening to “Al Capone Shines My Shoes” and I keep thinking of the year you read “Al Capone Does My Shirts” aloud to the two English classes :-)

  5. October 10, 2010 11:29 am

    I’ve heard great things about this book and am glad you liked it too, Erin. I admit the A Wrinkle in Time references do interest me, but what you said (or didn’t say) about the ending intrigues me even more. Like you though, it’s been ages since I read A Wrinkle in Time so it’s good to know that knowing in forward and backward isn’t necessary to enjoy this book too. Thanks for your great review, Erin.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 11, 2010 3:56 pm

      Sounds like you’d enjoy it! I was worried about the A Wrinkle in Time bit being over my head, but it wasn’t. I think you’d be fine picking up When You Reach Me!

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