Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
3.25 stars

Reason for reading: 2010 Newbery Medal for Book Awards Challenge

Description from the inside flap:

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.

First lines: "So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She's going to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark."

My thoughts: Sorry Newbery committee (since I'm sure they care!), this one didn't do a whole lot for me. Maybe I was biased ahead of time because I remember reading a review that said the book was odd or would be hard for kids to follow or something. But it just seemed to me like an excuse to write a love letter to Madeleine L'Engle and the 70's. I don't really like this trend of the recent past in kids' books - it's not really historical fiction yet and I find it just ends up seeming slightly dated. Stead is a few years older than I am, which puts her at 11 years old in 1979, which seems to be Miranda's age. I can't quite think of the right word, but it just seemed a bit indulgent. And I'm one of the few people (it seems) who didn't adore A Wrinkle in Time, so that's another bias I have against this book. I only read it last year and it wasn't my thing at all. I think a kid who hadn't read it would find all of the references confusing and annoying. While the notes Miranda finds and the suspense built by the "when you reach me" thing was interesting, I didn't find the climax all that surprising or interesting and I had to read it several times to figure it out. (Although, again, time and space stuff isn't my bag.)

But, I could be wrong - my biases might be getting me and maybe kids will love this book. I did like that the book dealt with non AWIT/time travel/70's things like friendships and how they evolve and being a lower income, single parent family, however. And the chapter headings being categories from $20,000 Pyramid (Things That Sneak Up On You, Things That Bounce) was a nice added touch.

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