When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Twelve-year-old Miranda lives in New York City and is facing a strange situation. First, her best friend of all time Sal has stopped wanting to spend any time at all with her after he gets punched in the stomach by another kid. Second, she has found a note that says that she must write a letter about what is going to happen in order to save her best friend and the writer of the letter. Third, the emergency key that is hidden outside their apartment door is stolen and more the notes continue to arrive. Miranda is not just solving this mystery. She has a new friend to spend time with and a lunch-time job where she and two of her friends are paid for their work in sandwiches and soda. The book is wonderful juxtaposition of strange and normal, fiction and reality.
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time for children in late elementary school. Its tone is just right, with good humor, mysterious happenings and friendship tensions. One of those would draw young readers in, all three makes it impossible to put down. Add to that the satisfaction of unraveling the questions in the novel and this one is a winner.
Each and every character is well-crafted. Miranda is a fascinating mix of sleuth and denial as she navigates the tensions of the novel. Her friends and the adults in the book have depth, humanness, and the ability to surprise while staying true to how they are depicted.
The pacing of the novel is deftly done. Never slow or dragging, it changes with the pace of the story almost effortlessly. Stead excels at letting the story tell itself. Her hand is never obvious in the writing or the plotting. Rather it is a book, a story that is so complete and nicely done that one can’t even imagine another way for it to have been told.
My only quibble is the cover. This book is just so much better than the cover, more accessible, more fun. So this wonderful novel may take some hand-selling to get it off of your shelves and into the hands of parents, teachers and kids. It will make a wonderful read-aloud for classrooms, keeping everyone quiet and involved. But it is also a great flashlight read, under the covers extending bedtime into the depths of the night.
Reviewed from library copy.