Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

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, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid 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 Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. 

I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. 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.

This is the reigning Newbery Award winner, and I have been trying to read it for months but it was always checked out of the library where I work. And then I finally checked it out myself, and someone came in looking for it and she was going to be meeting the author at an event and I said she could take it out instead since she was on a deadline. And then she brought it back and I was rereading The Secret Garden for the third or fourth time (loved it as a child) and so I checked out When You Reach Me but didn’t actually read it right away.

Fast forward a month or so, and I FINALLY read this book this weekend. In one day. It was holycrapawesome. I can totally see why it won the golden Newbery medal. Miranda’s mother is practicing to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid… you know, that show where a celebrity describes words and you have to guess them, and then vice versa, and in the end they go into the winners circle and the celeb has to list things in a category, and you need to correctly guess the six categories? So the chapter titles are mostly categories. Things That Are Hidden. Things In An Elevator. And in the end Miranda’s mother actually gets to be on the show.

There are all the usual things – the seemingly minor characters that end up coming into the story in bigger ways, the mystery that becomes obvious, the main character’s favorite book that ends up being important to the plot… and of course (kinda giving something away here but not too crucial to the plot), the girl Miranda thinks hates her for years, who it turns out thinks MIRANDA hated HER first! People are not always what they seem at first, and it’s fun figuring it out. Plus, whose life is she supposed to help save? That part kept me guessing til it came to that moment.

So before I give away anything else, let me just say that this is a great book, and you should read it. Children’s books are great, and even though parts of this were predictable, there was a lot more to it than that and it’s worth a read.