When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, is one of those books that I had read positively glowing reviews of here, there, and everywhere. In fact, I can’t bring to mind one single negative review that I’ve read. Still, the book’s cover never appealed to me: a grid of city streets studded with odd objects, like a shoe and a key? Strange. Plus, the summaries I read just didn’t grab me. Here’s the CIP summary from inside the book itself:
As her mother prepares to be a contestant on teh 1970s television game show “The $20,000 Pyramid,” a twelve-year-old New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes received from an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space.
New York City? 1970s? No thank you. Still, the bloggy voices persisted, and I finally brought this one home with me from the library.
Now that I’ve read it and had a little time to mull it over, this is what I have to say about it:
A story that goes up, down, and round and round, and then comes to a screeching halt at the end, roller coaster-like, and you ask yourself, “What just happened here?”
It turns out that I really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or by its summary.
I’m being vague, aren’t I? This time, it’s really not intentional. It’s just that this story is so. . .so. . .so. . .so. . .what? Weird? Maybe. Unexpected? Yes. A conglomeration of so many genres that it really defies categorizing? Yes. There is no way that I could’ve possibly figured out this story before it ended. No way. As you’re reading along, it seems like piece of realistic fiction, a coming-of-age story, really. However, by the time you get to the last page, you realize you’ve been had. This is a piece of fantasy or science fiction (I’m really not sure which), sort of. And then the most surprising thing of all: you almost get misty-eyed over the ending. My shedding a few tears over a story isn’t strange, but this just isn’t one that I expected to tug the heartstrings, and yet it does.
The obvious reason that so many book bloggers like this one is because of the tie-in with A Wrinkle in Time, which is the protagonist Miranda’s favorite book and one which figures into the plot. I like that, too, of course. I also like the story itself and the characterization. Miranda is a twelve-year-old latch-key kid who is beginning to notice a lot of things: her best friend isn’t that crazy about her anymore; the apartment she shares with her mother isn’t exactly high class; some boys might be more interesting than other. Stead captures the pre-teen years very well in this story. I marked this passage because it captures some of the middle school social climate that even I remember from school:
Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean. It’s like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten. And the way you usually act, the things you would have normally done, are like these ghosts that eveyone can see but pretends not to. It was like that when I asked Alice Evans to be my bathroom partner. I wasn’t one of the girls who tortured her on purpose, but I had never lifted a finger to help her before, or even spent one minute being nice to her. (144)
This book is about a whole lot of things, and one of them is simply caring for others. It’s a wild ride, but it has a heart.
My only real complaint about the book is the fact that when it ends, it’s all over with in a hurry. It’s like all of the previously mind-boggling hints suddenly become (sort of) clear, but the story is over before you really have a chance to process it. This is one of those books that might beg a second reading, just so one can catch all the clues that went unnoticed the first time through.