When You Reach Me

9780375850868_p0_v2_s260x420Do you have a book on your bookshelf that you see every day and still haven’t read??  Maybe you’ve seen a particular book at the bookstore and think about reading it but never get around to it?  This is that book for me!  I finally got around to reading When You Reach Me, and I’m so glad I did!  This was published first in 2009, so I guess I had avoided reading it too long!!  The story is actually set in 1979, and is focused on the life of 12-year-old Miranda, living in New York City, whose Mom is preparing to be a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid game show.  The author, Rebecca Stead, won the 2010 Newbury Medal for this book, and what’s really interesting is that there seems to be a bit of Rebecca in Miranda.  She too was raised in NYC, and would have been around the same age in 1979 as Miranda.

One of the reasons why this story is set in the 70s is that there is an element of time travel.  Miranda is interested in time travel and wonders frequently if it’s even possible.  It turns out, that in this story at least, it is possible!

As I am someone who was born in the 70s, it was interesting to pick out signs that this was set in that decade.  Of course the game show $20,000 Pyramid was a hit in the 70s, and it was hosted by a younger Dick Clark.  And although I wouldn’t refuse $20,000, the prize money today wouldn’t be exciting enough for a game show!  Miranda and her friends are allowed to wander the city streets alone – something that even in a much smaller town would almost never happen in 2014.  Especially after a confrontation with a crazy seemingly homeless man who is always on the corner near her apartment, these kids would not be walking New York City streets alone.

The target audience for this book is 9 – 12 years old.  One of those other signs of the 70s is that Stead mentions that one of the characters received a draft deferment during the Vietnam War.  This is kind of interesting to me as an adult reader, and it definitely gives a good description of that character.  I’m not sure young readers will have an understanding of that characterization.  That may be the only, even remotely, critical thin I have to say about When You Reach Me.  This really is a great story.

Miranda is being raised by a single mother who dropped out of law school after getting pregnant.  She works as a paralegal, and even her daughter knows that she is smarter and more capable than most of the lawyers she works for.  They have a very close relationship, yet face difficulty when her Mom announces her engagement to Richard, a close friend, right around Christmas.  The story pivots on a series of mysterious and anonymous notes that Miranda finds that in several locations around their home.  Her mom helps her to solve the mystery.  Who left these notes and why?

“Common sense is just a name for the way we’re used to thinking.”  She always seems to be challenging and challenged by ideas, concepts, and common beliefs.  As a character, she has incredible tenacity and wisdom, something to admire in a 12 year old.  This is such a great story, and so interesting the way time travel fits in – reminding me of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I absolutely love!  Like other young adult novels, this is one adults will love too!

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