Rebecca Stead, winner of the 2010 John Newberry Award — a very prestigious and haughty-taughty big deal, I assure you — has reminded me why I became a children’s author. When You Reach Me transports us back to 1978-79, into the lives of Miranda, Sal, Marcus, Annemarie, Julia and the “kicking man.” Miranda is a sixth-grader in New York City living with her hardworking single mom. When four mysterious, hand-scrawled letters tumble into Miranda’s life, her world gets knocked on its head.
Stead takes us on a time-travel journey. As a rule, I’m not big on the whole time-travel genre. I have enough trouble keeping up with myself in this dimension. I don’t even want to think about how much junk I’m failing at in the twilight zone. Stead’s well told tale of shifting time dimensions, however, has made me kick my rule to the curb.
Miranda’s journey isn’t about time travel so much as it encompasses the sort of out-of-body experience that is middle school. That was three years of my life when I felt like a moon-cheese eating alien and prayed to be zapped into another world. Miranda’s close friendship with neighbor Sal has existed her entire life. Then in what feels like the blink of an eye, he stops hanging out with her. If that isn’t freaky enough, two girls with a very glamorous, trendy-looking friendship take a break from each other and Miranda finds herself right square in the middle.
Moms of a certain age will love all the references to Dick Clark’s old game show, $20,000 Pyramid; young readers will identify with Miranda’s struggle to make sense of her life when everything around her seems to be changing and pulling in different directions. When You Reach Me is a great book to read for the sake of reading. When you’re done, share it with your little Gremlins. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t wait to pass it along to my kids. If you’ve read it, tell me what you think. And if you haven’t, run, run I tell you! Get theyself to the book store, order up a big coffee and a yummy pastry, then find a nook and drift away. It’s a quick read. You’ve earned a break today.