Thursday, July 02, 2009
When You Reach Me
Here is the buzz book of the year (so far, anyway). The arc sat around in my library closet for a long time. I’m not sure why I didn’t pick it up right away; it could have been the quiet cover or the time setting of 1978. What I realized was that I needed to read this book all in one sitting.
Miranda is at that 6th grade period in her life where all of the shifting seems to happen. Her best-friend Sal doesn’t want to hang out anymore, she’s noticing the shabbiness of her apartment for the first time, and the fact that her mother named her after a criminal is really bugging her. The two constants in her life are the laughing man hanging out under her mailbox, and the battered copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time that Miranda carries around everywhere that she goes.
Once Sal has ditched her, Miranda fortunately notices that two girls in her class Julia and Annemarie seem to be in a fight. Miranda sagely notes that “…The girls at school had been hurting each other’s feeling for years…I had watched them trade best friends, start wars, cry, trade back, make treaties, squeal and grab each other’s arms in this fake excited way, et cetera, et cetera…”(arc p.33). Miranda decides to capitalize on the girl’s fight and ask Annemarie to lunch. She accepts and Miranda’s 6th grade year takes on a decidedly different feel. Annemarie, Miranda and Colin get a job at the local sub shop, Miranda and Annemarie have sleep overs, and Miranda develops her first crush.
This all sounds very realistic fiction, right? Wrong. At the same time is running a subplot that involves mysterious notes and time travel. I know, right? Interestingly enough, I have recently read a YA book dealing with parallel universes (Bray’s Going Bovine), and watched a documentary (Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives) about eels frontman Mark Oliver Everette’s father’s work in quantum physics. It’s sometimes fascinating how these things all seem to come together at once.
Looking this over, I realize that this isn’t much of an informative blurb. Many before me have noted the difficulty in summing up this book. I am going to be interested to see which kids take to When You Reach Me. There have been many adults who have finished the last page and uttered a “hmm”, and immediately flipped back to the start. I would particularly like to see the reaction from young people who are recent readers of L’Engle’s work.
Refreshingly different and filled with insight, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is part mystery, part slice-of-life, and part science fiction. It has the feel of the kind of book that is going to stand the test of time. (I wonder if my 67 year old self will agree!)