Book of the Week - When You Reach Me

Set in the late 1970s, twelve-year-old Miranda was named for a horrible kidnapper. Sort of. Her single mother, once a law student had to drop out and become a paralegal when she discovered she was pregnant, but that didn't stop her from naming her baby after the famous Miranda rights.

Told in the first person, with some jumps through time over several months, Miranda struggles with being a latch key kid, rereading A Wrinkle in Time to escape, preparing her mom to appear on her favorite game show, being friends with girls, no longer being best friends with a boy, passing a potentially crazy homeless man each school day, race issues, and the fact that her mom hates her job.

When You Reach Me is a quiet book, unassuming with its cute cover and questioning characters.

Being this years' Newbery Award Winner, and having loved the past two year's winners (Savvy and The Graveyard Book), I fully expected to love this one too. I fear my expectations were perhaps a little high and in the end I felt the story was rather limp. Although the characters were true to their time period, in a time where children were allowed to walk to and from school by themselves and work in deli's during lunch breaks, I didn't feel that those characters interactions with each other were realistic. Miranda has whole conversations with strange kids about time travel and makes friends with a girl who doesn't really seem to want to be her friend. I truly expected the two's friendship to last a week and then be over since the two girls didn't have too much in common. Perhaps that was the point, a bunch of random people thrown together under--umm--usual circumstances. Her relationship with her mother and soon-to-be step-father seemed the most accurate, but as we all know, parents cannot play large parts in a children's book, for children cannot have adventures under the constraint of their parents.

Then, when the main character did carry on real conversations with others, I found that I didn't particularly like her. For example: when someone has read A Wrinkle in Time a hundred times, I would think that a philosophical conversation about the puzzles of time travel in that book would be of interest to the reader. However, Miranda is not remotely interested, dismissing the topic as "too weird". This may be my own bias as a reader, for even as a child, I over-analyzed everything I read, especially my favorite books. However, I felt like this was a symptom of this character for she was generally uninterested in a lot of things and dismissed many situations out of hand.

When time travel did make an appearance in the story, it was anti-climatic as Stead had introduced the reader to the concept so many times in the book that the reader should have seen it coming. I had the big mystery solved after the first time travel discussion, and was rather upset to discover I was right. Unlike my favorite twist-ending book The Thief, there was no reason to go back and read, no ah-ha moments. I was especially disappointed in the end, when I thought I would get an explanation of this whole time travel thing. The hows and whys, were never revealed. It was like a tantalizing tidbit that I never got. Perhaps there will be a sequel? A sequel from the viewpoint of Marcus? Perhaps it doesn't matter, but the only reason I keep thinking about the book is because I want to know how.

I'm frankly surprised that Stead's book won The Newbery. However, that it did so tends to confirm a phenomenon that Anita Silvey discussed (and there is a link below) in which she wonders about the accessibility that these Award winners have to the age groups they are geared towards. I know that at my bookstore, there are no children clambering over their mothers, begging for When You Reach Me. Instead they want the newest Wimpy Kid book, the Candy Apple series, and for the astute reader...The Lightning Thief.