Book Review : When You Reach Me
By Rebecca Stead
Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.
But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
This was a weird book! I have read a lot of odd books, and this one tops the list because it is written for a young audience, has some mature material and references A Wrinkle In Time. I have my doubts that lots of kids have read Madeleine L’Engle award winning book from 1963, and without this background it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Because of this I feel like When You Reach Me was written for adults within the format of a children’s book. I don’t think many kids will enjoy this book (I could be wrong, I’ve seen a review where a teacher shared it with her 4th grade class and she said they all loved it). The lexile level is listed as 750 which roughly corresponds to a 4-6th grade level. (I don’t actually like the lexile system because it doesn’t take into consideration the content.) It is suggested for ages 11-14 which is about 5-9th grade.
Gritty, unpleasant subjects are also explored; a slightly mature content. To me the most prominent was the homeless man who the children were frightened of, who lived under the mailbox. Other subjects touched on included rehabilitation in prisons, racism, single mothers, consequences of getting pregnant when not married and dead-end jobs. It was sad to see how Miranda and Sal fell out of their friendship. I think many children could easily identify with subject because friendships are often fragile, especially as they transition in the teen years.
For me the main reference to A Wrinkle In Time was to provide a literary device to explain time travel. It just didn’t feel right, though I loved A Wrinkle In Time, I’m fuzzy on the details since I haven’t read it in a long time. It just didn’t feel like a pertinent reference. (I hate to say it since I know someone will jump all over me for saying this, but that’s just how I felt.) Time travel always has certain rules, like you can’t see yourself in a different time or you could go crazy. Does the time traveling character go a little crazy in When You Reach Me? The plot became very obvious to me, as an adult. I believe a younger audience will find the end surprising and sad.
I did like some of the characters, like Miranda, who was filled with self-doubts, but I just never felt emotionally connected to the story. I never understood Miranda’s mother as all. It seemed to have a slow start and it seemed like the course of action Miranda was encouraged to take wasn’t safe. I wouldn’t want my child to follow mysterious letters, and keep secrets about a stranger watching their every move, seeming to know the future.
I didn’t hate When You Reach Me, but I didn’t love it either. When I saw it again in the library I had no desire to share it with my child, which is telling of my overall impression. I don’t know how books are chosen to be Newberry Award winners. The winners frequently seem to be edgy, thought provoking or have content that will interest adults. I frequently like readying the Newberry books for my personal enjoyment.
I would love to see a respected award given to books that kids will love. My hope is to have children love reading when they are young so they will continue to read as adults. I think there is plenty of time to read thought provoking novels later, when teens are questioning who they are and how they fit in the world, and children’s books could go back to being fun for children.
I would love to hear about Newberry books that your kids have loved reading.
3 out of 5 stars
If you like this one try The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (I don’t know how much children will like this one.) and Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett.
I liked both of these much more than When You Reach Me.