Things You Have to Read

Do you sometimes come across a line in a book that makes you instantly reach for something to write it down with? The other night I came across this toward the end of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me:

Trying to forget doesn’t really work. In fact, it’s pretty much the same as remembering. But I tried to forget anyway, and to ignore the fact that I was remembering you all the time.

Miranda is in sixth grade in NYC in the late 1970s. Her best friend Sal suddenly drops her, for reasons she doesn’t understand, and she starts finding mysterious little notes in her belongings…notes from someone she doesn’t know, but who seems to know her and claims to be trying to get to her to save her friend–and himself.

A wonderful stand-alone novel that takes place in the real world, When You Reach Me is at once an homage to Miranda’s favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, and a wholly original story that works well on two levels. First, there’s the absorbing mystery of who could be leaving Miranda these notes and how does he know so much about her–sometimes predicting things that haven’t even happened yet. Then there’s the progression of her everyday life through the school year, as she tries to recover from Sal’s rejection, makes new friends (and odd acquaintances), and has some simple but profound realizations about herself and the people around her.

The author does a wonderful job of choosing period details that firmly root the story in its time and place, triggering nostalgia for adults but not at all going over the heads of young readers. As a “latch-key kid” Miranda spends a lot of time alone and is more independent than most kids today; her neighborhood, especially the loop from her apartment building past the corner store and the garage to her school, is practically another character; her mom spends much of her free time practicing for the “$20,000 Pyramid,” which she’s sure she will win and make life much easier for herself and her daughter. Most of the chapters are named in the style of categories on the game show, like “Things That Burn,” “Things You Hold on To,” and “Things You Forget.”

My first impulse after finishing this novel was to go back and read it again from the beginning and then re-read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time for the umpteenth time. Suggested for ages 9 to 14, this is a book that will resonate with most readers whether or not they’re familiar with A Wrinkle in Time. But if they aren’t, they will want to be after reading When You Reach Me.

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