August 9, 2012
When You Reach Me
GENRE: Science Fiction / Mystery - Literary
HONORS: Newbery Medal; Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Fiction; many others, including multiple best-seller and best-of-the-year lists
REVIEW: When You Reach Me begins with Miranda, a sixth grader in 1978, and a postcard informing her mother that she is to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. Miranda addresses the reader directly as she recounts the events of the year, from the time she receives the first of a series of unsettling notes, to the end of the year, when a death occurs and she slowly puzzles out the mystery of who has been leaving her the notes and why. Stead leans somewhat heavily on Miranda's favorite book, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, using this classic to seed the notion of non-linear time and travel between dimensions, (the material is strong enough on it's own that a few simple allusions would have sufficed). That said, the way Stead slowly reveals the purpose behind the notes and their sender is a thing of beauty, intricate and controlled. With a climax that is tremendously effecting and a denouement that stays with you long after the book is over, When You Reach Me is a beautifully crafted book, one that will challenge it's readers as well as reward.
OPINION: When You Reach Me is an unexpected puzzle-box. Miranda is a trustworthy narrator, guiding the reader faithfully through the story's non-linear, threads. Though the book requires a certain amount of maturity and patience on the part of the reader, it is quietly profound - the sort of book you remember reading decades later. With it's blend of L'Engle inspired science fiction and social realism, it is impressive, relevant and entirely deserving of the accolades it's received.
IDEAS: A great book for fans of A Wrinkle in Time, (the novel reads, in some ways, as a love letter to L'Engle's classic work). One might recommend reading both, back to back, and then comparing the two. Which elements of A Wrinkle in Time appear prominently in When You Reach Me? Would the novel be as strong without it's foundational allusions to L'Engle's classic? Why do you think Stead chose to weave it so strongly into this novel? Why is it important that it is Miranda's favorite book?