When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead’s First Light was the second book I reviewed when I started blogging. When her newest novel, When You Reach Me, started getting buzz on various blogs that I read I knew I wanted to read it when it was published in July.  

When You Reach Me is historical fiction, though I don’t think a lot of kids will even realize it.  Set in 1978, I felt subtly pulled into a different era, yet much of it was familiar. Miranda is in 6th grade, an age I know well.  Anyone who has ever been on the cusp of middle school knows what a strange world it is- one where friendships change overnight, crushes are born, and parents seem to aim only to embarrass you.  Miranda already has enough to deal with as a 6th grader so when a mystery falls into her lap she does her best to ignore it.  After all, she has a lot on her mind!  Her best friend, Sal, stopped hanging out with her.  Her mom is about to be a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid, and she might be developing a crush on a boy in her class.  

But when Miranda receives a series of strangely prophetic letters over the course of a few months, she doesn’t know what to do.  It all begins when she finds a small, stiff piece of paper bearing the following message:

M,

This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, that you write me a letter. Second, that you remember to mention the location of your house key in the letter. The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.

Each letter is odd and they seem to get stranger as the book goes on.  But when Miranda reaches the conclusion of the notes as a tragedy is sort-of-averted, you will be astonished.  I certainly was!

This is a book that is different from any other book I have read.  As a huge fan of Madeline L’Engle’s books, especially A Wrinkle in Time, Miranda’s love of the same book was a familiar one for me.  I have a feeling Rebecca Stead was also a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time.  But this is a hard book to describe without giving away spoilers.  All I can say is go out and pre-order this one!  It ships in just a couple of weeks.

I can’t wait to read this to my class next fall.  Each chapter is short and ends on a paragraph that will have kids begging you to read more.  It’s also a fairly quick read, which I will need with my new schedule.  And I think it will garner quite a few shiny stickers come award season!

I can also imagine booktalking this one.  In 6th grade I have a lot students who enjoy the tv show LOST (as do I).  I would call When You Reach Me LOST for the middle school set.  The strands of the story all start weaving themselves together, leaving you breathless at the end, much as I imagine I will be at the end of the final season of LOST.  There’s mystery woven throughout the book yet it also feels entirely realistic.  All in all, a perfect read.

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