When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

From Goodreads:

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, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street 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 a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. 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.

My type?: Yes, yes, yes. This is the thing I love about reading: the coincidences, that don’t really feel like coincidences at all. Right after I just so happened to finally pick up A Wrinkle in Time, a classic which has been in print for over 40 years, I pick this book up. A book about a girl named Miranda, whose favorite book is about a girl named Meg.

I happened to pick this book up because I decided to visit my local library for the first time–I’m still new to this area–and I found it amongst the toppled over paperbacks and screaming toddlers. I hadn’t been looking to read this book next. I just stumbled upon it and thought, Aha, I heard this one is good. And it was. Really, really good.

Something I learned reading this book is–description. Children’s books don’t need much of it. The book flowed effortlessly, and even though much of the first three quarters of it is spent reflecting on something the reader has no idea about yet, while the action and exposition are saved until much later, I still never wanted to put it down. The lack of flowery details helped that I think. Stead is especially good at this though. Where there are details, though you may not know it yet, they will be relevant. All of them. Quite a feat, and one I will look to for guidance always.

The story was a puzzle. I’m not particularly good at puzzles, and/or maybe I just chose not to be good at this one so I could make the mystery last as long as possible. But either way, I loved it. It was like a scrumptious salad or sandwich in which I finally didn’t have to remove anything to soak into my napkin on the side, or wish I could. All its parts contributed to the perfect meal. For me. At this moment in time. And even though I’m still mulling over what exactly the chef used, behind closed doors, to make everything come together so perfectly, consider me satisfied.

Memorable bit(s): Though Stead didn’t use a lot of descriptors, when she did, occasionally, they were meaningful:

“It was at that moment, standing next to her, that I figured out the truth. The truth was that Mom saw it too: the peeling paint, the cigarette butts on the stairs, everything. It soaked into me like water into sand, fast and heavy-making.”

And then there were those moments of uniquely imagined insight:

“Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way. But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down agin. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to.”

Recommendation: If you like original stories with pitch perfect detailing, and a puzzle that won’t quit until the very end, I recommend making this one a part of your permanent collection, even though I didn’t. I don’t want to give it up, and plan on getting me own copy soon. I may have to get two because I think my sister would enjoy it as well. Though I can’t say I won’t survive giving it up; My throat is still recovering from the previous borrower’s perfume.

Published: July 2009 by Wendy Lamb Books.

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