When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
July 2009 Wendy Lamb Books
From the Publisher:
While living in New York City, twelve-year-old Miranda is busy helping her mother study for her upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid when a series of anonymous notes leave her feeling anything is possible.
In 1978, Miranda is a twelve-year-old girl living alone with her mother in New York City. Her mother works full-time, and Miranda is often left home alone. One day, Miranda receives a note that says, “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Over the next several weeks items around the house turn-up missing, and more anonymous notes arrive. Unfortunately, Miranda doesn’t have anyone she can confide in. Her best friend and neighbor Sal has just told her he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Miranda is heartbroken and makes several failed attempts to make new friends. During all of these events, Miranda’s mother is set to appear on the popular The $20,000 Pyramid game show. The family needs money, and Miranda and Richard, her mother’s boyfriend, spend every night quizzing her with trivia questions. As time goes on, Miranda tries to unravel the mystery and find clues in her daily activities. Relationships change, additional friendships form, and her mother’s television debut has arrived. It is at this moment that all of the pieces and clues fall into place for Miranda. She understands the notes and knows who needs to be saved, but has to defy the laws of space and time to believe it’s possible.
Stead does a good job weaving science fiction and fantasy elements into this coming of age story. In the story, Miranda speaks often of her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. This novel by Madeleine L'Engle foreshadows the current story during several scenes. Having never read A Wrinkle in Time, I had no idea of the clues that the book brought to the When You Reach Me story. Regardless, there are other opportunities to pick up on hints and signs about where the story was headed. Personally, I felt the story was a little too easy and predictable without the clues from L’Engle’s novel. The side story of the game show appearance was distracting for me. I appreciate the fact that the game show adds to the setting and time of the story (1970s), but this element seemed to take up too much time, and seemed too grand of an idea. It is easy to see that Stead was raised in New York City during the 1970s. Stead and Miranda take pride in the neighborhood. The local delis, pizza parlors, alleys, and apartment buildings are all described from firsthand knowledge with great details. Stead understands the value of chosen family members, and for Miranda, those people are neighbors and local business owners. This coming of age story will attract young readers, and the low fantasy elements will keep them tuned in. Recommended for ages 10-14 yrs.