Review: “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead
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.
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.