When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
This coming-of-age story, narrated by 12-year-old Mira, touts the rewards of independent thinking and the pleasures of rereading. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is Mira’s favorite book. She “had probably read it a hundred times, which was why it looked so beat-up.” Although it is not necessary to have read A Wrinkle in Time, I am betting that if your child hasn’t yet, he or she will after reading this book. Mira is highly likable, trustworthy, and funny. She never knew her father, but she’s very content with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, Richard, and her life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She also likes being a “latchkey” child. As Richard says, “Keys are power. Some of us have to come knocking” (Richard does not own a key to their apartment). Everything is dandy, until the day that Mira’s lifelong friend Sal randomly gets punched in the stomach. At least, that’s what Mira thinks.
Through Mira’s eyes, the author explores the profound possibilities in a city where a neighborhood can contain an entire world. Mira and Sal “read” the energy of a gang of boys, deciding if “the boys were being regular” or if they need to cross to the other side of the street. They gauge the behavior of “the laughing man,” the homeless gentleman who sleeps with his head under the corner mailbox, to see if it’s safe to pass him. And, after Sal gets that fateful punch and lets Mira know that he doesn’t want to be friends anymore, Mira even winds up getting to know Marcus, the boy who punched Sal. The good news is, a postcard arrives that says Mira’s mother will finally get her shot on The $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark on April 27, 1979 – “Just like you said.” That comment is the first clue that something larger is going on here. Someone knew ahead of time that Mira’s mother would get her chance with Dick Clark on that particular day—someone who leaves mysterious notes for Mira. How the heroine puts the pieces of the puzzle together takes a back seat to all of the fascinating characters that come through her life, the effects they have on her, and the ideas they introduce to her—such as Marcus quoting Einstein’s idea that “common sense is just habit of thought” or prickly classmate Julia using a ring full of diamond chips to explain time travel. And if the solution comes together a bit rapidly for some readers’ taste, they will still want to stick with this heroine, and even reread the book to see how the puzzle pieces fit. Not only does Mira discard her “habit[s] of thought,” but she will likely inspire your youngsters to think about things a bit differently, too.