When You Reach Me
By Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2009
When You Reach Me is a children's / young adult novel, and is technically both a mystery and a science fiction novel. It won a Newbery Medal in 2010, spent 16 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and has received good reviews all around.
The story is set in 1978-79, and follows twelve-year old Miranda through a Very Exciting Year. There's a lot going on -- her best-friend-since-forever stops talking to her, forcing her to start paying attention to the other kids in her school. Her classmates turn out to be more interesting than she had expected, but also weirder. Her mother is invited to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid, and is determined to win, so game show practice is starting to take over her afternoons. She gets a part-time job, working for sandwiches. She discovers a dentist. It's a busy book.
But through all of this a mystery unfolds. Someone unknown is leaving Miranda notes that make spookily accurate predictions about the future. They are appearing in places that mysterious people should not be able to get into, and they are rather cryptic. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be predicting anything useful, but the mysterious note-writer does claim to working to save 'her friend'... whoever that is.
The majority of events that fill the book are interesting, but nothing too special. It does have a semi-historical setting, which is big these days, and positive themes of getting along with people of different social classes, colors, and physical and neurological abilities, which wins it bonus points with the teachers and parents. The central plot device is nothing new -- even in YA fantasy. But the story is put together very well, the characters are interesting, and the mystery is particularly well done. Overall, I would absolutely recommend this book to children from 9-15, and to any adults that like children's literature. However, I would also add that if you are well-read, you may not find this book as wonderful as everyone says it is, simply because the plot may seem vaguely familiar.
Oh, it's worth noting that Miranda is obsessed with the book A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which she simply refers to as 'my book'. She refers to it a number of times, and there are some spoilers. So if you haven't read A Swiftly Tilting Planet yet, you might want to read that first.
AR level: 4.5