Knots untangled

200px-When_you_reach_meWhen You Reach Me (2009), Rebecca Stead

This is going to be a tough post, because I don’t want to spoil anything about this book for you if you haven’t read it yet. It’s important NOT to know in advance the key plot point when you read this, so I have to work around it. I think I can manage.

Stead’s 2010 Newbery Award Winner gives the protagonist (and us) a puzzle to solve. Someone is leaving notes for 11-year-old Miranda, asking her to write back and then deliver the letter. She’ll know where. The letter must tell a true story, one that hasn’t happened yet.

Stead’s novel is the story, told in Miranda’s voice, but it isn’t the letter. Stead leaves that for us to imagine.

Details: Miranda’s a latch-key child, living in NYC in the late 1970s — on the Upper West Side, but not the nice part. Her apartment is on Amsterdam Avenue, in a building with dim lights, unreliable elevators, peeling paint. Miranda’s mother (no father in sight), neighbors, her best friend (who gradually becomes less so), school acquaintances (who gradually become friends), teachers, local shop owners, a couple of homeless guys (one is always naked): these are some of the people in Miranda’s world.

The school scenes, full of the kind of detail most adults have forgotten, ring true. The school dentist rewards students with stickers that the older kids peel off before returning to their classes. Kids fight for no reason, misunderstand each other, are embarrassed by the craziest things (one poor girl can never bring herself to say she needs to use the toilet, and she spends hours suffering). Teachers are tough cookies on some days and cream puffs on others. Today’s middle schools are still like that (but with more technology).

Miranda’s story is about what she learns: how not to be mean, how to make friends, how to understand adults, and how to “lift the veil” and see everything for what it is. Don’t let these lessons fool you — this is no simple tale. It’s a complex knot of string that is slowly pulled loose, told honestly by a girl about to realize something world-changing. And I mean the whole world, not just her 3-square-block area of NYC. You’ll see.

WrinkleInTimeNewbery Fun Fact: Miranda’s favorite book is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1963 Newbery Award winner). You can enjoy Stead’s novel without having read L’Engle’s, but why deny yourself the pleasure? Unless I’m mistaken, this is the only time a character in a Newbery winning novel references a book that had previously won the award. When you read Stead’s book, I want you to remember this fun fact, because it ties in with the key plot point I couldn’t mention in my first paragraph above, and because I think it’s evidence that a future scientific breakthrough will occur. Tweet me when you read the book and we can discuss this in private.

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
This entry was posted in Newbery Award, YA Lit and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Knots untangled

  1. Julia Lee says:

    I haven’t read this one yet, but I loved her quirky Liar & Spy. I’m looking forward to catching up with When You Reach Me and I don’t *think* you have given the game away…

  2. Janet Rörschåch says:

    I just ordered this through Boulder Library. Looking forward to reading it!

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