by Rebecca Stead
Middle Grade, 208 pages.
Wendy Lamb Books (2009)
“There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days.”
Miranda thinks she has her life as a latchkey kid figured out: her frazzled mom is dating Richard, Sal is her best friend, the crazy man in the street sleeps under the mailbox, the spare key is tucked into the fire hose.
Then a series of mysterious letters, written by someone who knows the future, shake up her world and things begin to change.
A WRINKLE IN TIME is lauded in the acknowledgments for WHEN YOU REACH ME and that is no accident. L’Engle’s classic has influenced this book thematically and plot-wise. Both books, you see, happen to feature time travel.
At first, that really surprised me about WHEN YOU REACH ME. Rebecca Stead has created a very convincing real world full of authentic, idiosyncratic characters, spare description and witty, engaging writing. The extra twist of time travel was unexpected but fascinating. By the time the climax comes together — with two of the same person, one from the present, one from the future, colliding in a gripping scene — I was riveted.
Best of all, this book reminds me of LOVE, AUBREY (Read my review), my favorite middle grade book of the year. Surprise, surprise, both are from Wendy Lamb’s imprint. Bravo! WHEN YOU REACH ME adds another quiet, unassuming but completely engaging and heartfelt book to an already amazing list.
For Readers: This book will be a hit with smart kids, teens and (cough cough) kidlit-lovin’ adults. It is a blazing-fast read. No joke, I polished it off in, like, three minutes and wanted to read it again. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, Stead has paid her tribute to L’Engle and, at the same time, has created an emotional, intelligent and intricate story that could easily become its own modern classic.
For Writers: WHEN YOU REACH ME is a perfect example of my favorite “genre.” I put that in quotes lest all the MFA and PhD students in the world jump down my throat, for it isn’t really a genre, per se, but a term from literary criticism. For me, though, “magical realism” is the only way to describe this book. Magical realism is our world with a twist, a little magical quirk, like time travel. The people are like us, the world is our own and easily recognizable, but something is a little off and the characters must react to it.
For me, that term aptly fills the gray area between genres like sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal (that usually feature a world not quite our own) and what you’d call “contemporary” or “literary” fiction (that feature no crazy anything). If it isn’t a genre you’ve tried writing, then do. It is so much fun and such a treat (as long as you’re clear when you set the rules of the magic and stick to them, of course).
Also, I’m pretty much a stickler about the use of the 2nd person in fiction (more on this later) but Stead has used it here to great effect and as a surefire way to keep tension and stakes sky high. Definitely check it out to learn more about that.