When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Things That Suck You In

Books that make you want to flip back to the beginning and start an immediate reread. Books you actually take the time to reread. When You Reach Me (Random House/Wendy Lamb, 2009). Books you want to read a third time. Books you want to clutch to your chest.

Things You Care About

Sixth graders Miranda and her best friend Sal living in Manhattan in the same apartment building. Miranda’s mother, a frustrated lawyer-wanna-be legal secretary studying for an upcoming appearance on the TV game show, $10,000 Pyramid and who is struggling with a decision about whether or not she should marry her steady, nurturing boyfriend, Richard. Miranda’s favorite book, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which she reads over and over again, despite her teacher’s attempts to broaden her scope.

Things That Are Puzzling

Who stole the key to Miranda’s Apartment? Why does the crazy man who kick boxes into the busy street mumble “bookbag, pocketshoe” over and over again? Who is leaving mysterious notes for Miranda that appear to know what will happen in the future? Why won’t Sal talk to Miranda anymore?

Things You Admire

The 1979 setting that is just right without trying too hard. The small details like the mother calling bad tasteless strawberries SSOs (Strawberry Shaped Objects), Dick Clark, Madeleine L’Engle, creative teachers, adults who are real characters (flawed in real ways but supportive and caring), books that make you think and wonder. Rebecca Stead.

P.S. For the unenlightened, you can find many clips of Dick Clark hosting the Pyramid show online. I am old enough to remember it as the $10,000 Pyramid although inflation increased it over the years to $25,000 and $100,000 (although Dick Clark never seemed to age). Here are a few to get you started:

A ten minute clip that gives you an overview of a whole show’s workings.

Billy Crystal’s Record Setting Winner’s Circle Round of 26 seconds!

Worst Winner Circle Ever (Tom Poston and contestant fail to get any correct answers.)

If you get sucked into watching more clips it will soon be evident that you’d rather have Loretta Swit over Barbara Feldman as your celebrity partner!


Things That Are Impossible

Following Cindy’s post! Trying to say how brilliant this book is without either gushing hopelessly or giving away the premise.

Setting aside the Pyramid fun for a moment, let me wind up our post by saying that this is a wonderfully crafted book. I frequently complain about the dearth of sf for young readers and Stead has stepped up to the plate with this remarkable piece of writing. Stead clearly expects her readers to handle the complexity of her plot and her careful construction ensures that happens. Every detail is important and everything fits together to complete a perfect explanation and a very satisfying conclusion to the mysterious events. While the excellent plotting might be enough for any book, there is much more for readers. The characters, as Cindy, has said are all multi-dimensional and Miranda’s authentic voice will propel readers into some wonderfully realized themes such as friendship and the assumptions we make about people. This is one of my favorites of the year so far and I am itching to read it again. All I have to do is wrench it out of Cindy’s hands!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

8 Comments on "When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead"

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  1. scopenotes@gmail.com' Scope Notes says:

    Great review! I couldn’t agree more with your comments on this outstanding book. Also, thanks for the video links – the Billy Crystal clip is so cool!

  2. Things that are amazing: this review! Great job, ladies, you really got across the uniqueness of this book. Wouldn’t be surprised to see that metal come January. Bad cover, tho.

  3. Oh I SO agree about the cover! It works when you’ve read the book but I don’t think it is going to lure readers into picking up the book. I also agree with metal prognostications – it’s in MY Newbery list for certain. Too bad we can’t vote 😉 –Lynn

  4. I’m mixed about the cover. I do appreciate that it is probably not going to entice the readers this book should get, but when I read it aloud to my class, as clues in the book started to make sense (say the pocket), they kept returning to the cover to look for clues there too.

  5. The cover didn’t attract me at first, and I’m still not crazy about it, but I liked it a lot more after reading the book than before. I can see kids flipping to it to look for clues. I started to about half way through.–Cindy

  6. jmatt@andreabrownliterary.com' Jennifer Mattson says:

    I just finished this last night, and could barely sleep for my frantic yet enjoyable ponderings of how this intricate plot clicks together. Like TUCK EVERLASTING, this combines marvelous middle-grade writing about complicated, genuine relationships with a mindblowing fantasy/sf twist. More, please!

    One benefit of the cover is that it will attract readers who may not otherwise be drawn to a story with sf elements…

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