mitchell k dwyer's Reviews > When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
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Feb 15, 10

bookshelves: newbery-medal, reviewed
Read from February 05 to 14, 2010

Miranda is twelve. Her single mom practices every evening for an upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid. Her best friend Sal doesn’t speak to her anymore, so she is forced to walk home alone past the group of rowdy older boys and past the homeless man who sleeps with his head beneath the mailbox. And three mysterious notes from an unknown sender plead with her to help save an unnamed friend.

Plot-wise, this is all you need to know about Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, the 2010 winner of the Newbery Medal. If this plot description isn’t enough to convince you to read it, you should also know that in a loving tribute to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the author develops lovable characters in a series of very short chapters with a simple, readable prose that is at times astonishingly beautiful:

Then I sat on the couch and closed my eyes. I pictured the world. I pictured the world millions of years ago, with crazy clouds of gas everywhere, and volcanoes, and the continents bumping into each other and then drifting apart. Okay. Now life begins. It starts in the water, with tiny things, microscopic, and then some get bigger. And one day something crawls out of the water onto land. There are animals, then humans, looking almost all alike. There are tiny differences in color, the shape of the face, the tone of the skin. But basically they are the same. They create shelters, grow food, experiment. They talk; they write things down.

Now fast-forward. The earth is still making loops around the sun. There are humans all over the place, driving in cars and flying in airplanes. And then one day one human tells another human that he doesn’t want to walk to school with her anymore.

“Does it really matter?” I ask myself.

It did.


The short chapters are small scenes that capture the humor, tension, and absurdity of life as a preteen, and Stead manages to weave one fantastic thread through a story that is in just about every other way a slice of believable life.

The characters act and speak the way twelve-year-olds do. Some of them panic at the thought of having to announce to the whole class the need to use the restroom. Some of them are embarrassed about having not enough money. Some of them are embarrassed about having more than enough money. Alliances are made and broken quickly and suddenly, according to the code of the sixth-grade classroom, and Miranda, even while dealing with the scary, unsigned notes from who-knows-where, seems equally challenged by the uncertainty of having a friend sleep over for the first time.

When You Reach Me is immediately a classic, undoubtedly destined to be a favorite of many readers for a long time.
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