A Brief Review of
When You Reach Me.
2010 Newbery Award Winner.
Hardback: Random House, 2009.
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Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger Smith.
In Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery Award winning novel, When You Reach Me, Miranda is a twelve year old navigating sixth grade alone after the confusing and sudden end to her longtime friendship with Sal. Making new friends comes fairly easily, but Miranda’s new stability is thrown off when mysterious notes begin appearing (“I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own…The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.”) They frighten her, of course, but she finds herself unable to share them with her mother after the first, bewildering one. Thus begins Miranda’s introduction into the confusing world of time-bending adventure. An adventure she’s not excited to be part of, despite her love of Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Award-winning classic A Wrinkle in Time.
Miranda’s voice is smart, well-educated, clear, but she’s not very exciting. I find her refreshing. The larger story, fantastical though it is, is surpassed by the heart of the story, which is simple: a young girl making sense of a world that keeps growing bigger and more confusing. In other words–she grows up. Miranda becomes aware of her mother as a real person with failed dreams, and her own responsibilities in regard to meeting the needs of those around her–including friends, enemies and the crazy man on her street corner.
Jumbling together time travel, the $20,000 Pyramid, and pre-teenhood, Stead could have easily fallen into writing the typical quirky-charactered young adult novel (a formula the Newbery Award committee likes to reward). But despite unusual, frightening, and, yes, quirky circumstances, Stead’s characters are flawed, sometimes unusual, but completely believable–a trait fans of A Wrinkle in Time might recognize.
Stead makes numerous references to A Wrinkle in Time throughout her book and L’Engle fans have been understandably drawn to it, with mixed responses. While When you Reach Me is a pleasant, easy read, and even a little thought provoking and mind-bending, it lacks the richness and insight that has kept A Wrinkle in Time on teachers’ must-read lists for nearly 50 years.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com