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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead (Newbery winner!)

I enjoyed this 2010 Newbery winner, but it's kind of taken me a little time to warm up to it. I liked it less when I first finished it a few weeks ago than I like it now. That's kind of unusual for me. Most books don't grow on me so much as I think about them. I either really like them when I read them or they stay in the "eh" category. They don't often move up. The Mysterious Benedict Society did that for me, too, and interestingly, these two books are a little similar.

This book also has a mystery and it's one that's solved by kids. unlike the MBS, this book also has a sci-fi component, but I don't want to say much about that as it might be a spoiler.

Miranda, a 6th grader, begins receiving random warning notes. The reader and Miranda together are made to try and put things together to figure out what they mean, and it requires some effort on the part of both. I think perhaps that's why I didn't bond strongly with this book immediately. I was too busy trying to figure things out to love it. I was working! Now that the mystery is solved - although even at the end you have to do some serious inferring - this book is NOT for the faint of heat or mind - I can reflect on the story itself and take more time to enjoy it.

I'd recommend this book for readers who like to engage their brain as they read. Fans of A Wrinkle in Time, a book which Miranda adores and reads constantly, are also sure to enjoy this one. Currently available at Multnomah County Library, but I am ordering it for our library, of course.


Aaron Mead said...

Here's what I love about this book. First, of course, the compelling mystery. Stead gives the mystery depth beyond the mere content of the notes by lacing the book with the science fiction theme of time travel. The most obvious way this theme shows up is in conversations Miranda has with certain friends—in particular Marcus, a math and physics prodigy who thinks time travel is theoretically possible. However, time travel is also woven into the book via Miranda’s attachment to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (the only book Miranda reads), a book in which the protagonist, Meg, travels through time to save her family members.

Second, I love Stead's focus on the theme of friendship. Specifically, the novel addresses the question of how to hold on to old friendships without stifling them, and it insightfully brings out the stabilizing effect that new friendships can have in the effort to preserve or reclaim old ones. I'm holding back here in order not to spoil the plot, but suffice to say that the novel’s narrative reflections on friendship are extremely thoughtful and resonant. This theme of friendship will speak deeply to tweens navigating the frequently tumultuous social world of middle school.

Finally, the book is also just very clever. For example, Miranda’s mother wants to win on The $20,000 Pyramid. The final part of the game show is called the “Winner’s Circle”, in which a set of objects is described to the contestant and she is required to say what category the objects belong to. So, if the objects were “a tube of toothpaste, someone’s hand” the contestant would say “things you squeeze”. Stead cleverly titles most of the chapters in the book with categories like that, such as “Things You Keep in a Box,” “Things That Go Missing,” and “Things You Hide.” And sure enough, Stead puts objects in each chapter that fit into these titular categories. After a while, it became a fun extra game to find what the “things that smell” or “things that kick” were in the chapter I was reading!

Ms. Yingling said...

I felt the same way, which is why I couldn't really feel an "of course" even when it won the Newbery. It's gone out, but I haven't heard any reaction yet. We'll see. Mysterious Benedict Society is freakishly popular, and is one of Teen Boy's favorites, even though I disliked it.