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:
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.