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When you reach me by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2009

It's 1978 and Miranda is in sixth grade in New York City. She and her best friend Sal are drifting apart, and mysterious letters keep appearing which are addressed to her and accurately predict the future. Miranda doesn't know what to make of the notes and the events they describe, but her absolute favourite book  - A wrinkle in time by Madeleine L'Engle - may turn out to be the key to the mystery.

There is so much going on in this brief (197-page) novel that it would take another few paragraphs to write a synopsis that covers the key plot points. I do not say this disparagingly in the least, as the author handled the story's complexities extraordinarily deftly and, for the most part, linearly. It is quite a feat, as is the fact that I hadn't the slightest clue who the mysterious letter-writer was until it was revealed. In fact, it is a book I intend to re-read in order to discover what I missed the first time.

The characters are what made this book a joy for me to read. Miranda is intelligent, perceptive, and valiantly trying to make some sense of the world around her. I appreciated the little details about her inner life, such as how she balances her fears with her realism by approaching people she's afraid of to ask the time so she can see that they are, in fact, not so scary. Also, she is aware of the little moments of poetry in daily life while not noticing that a close friend eats a special diet, which is that odd mix of worldliness and obliviousness that can be found in many 11-year-olds.

When you reach me is, at its essence, about the interactions between people in Miranda's world: Miranda's relationships with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, sixth-grade friendships that form almost as mysteriously as they end, and Miranda's observations of the people within her neighbourhood. The characters are lively and real and had their own things going on outside the walls of the story, especially Marcus and Julia. There always seemed to be a lot going on for Miranda, even if big events didn't happen very often. And if that isn't an accurate depiction of real life, then I'm not sure what is.

When you reach me is the Newbery-winning novel of 2010 and rightly so.

 


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