Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, reviewed by Freaky


Just, wow.

Publisher's description:

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.

I so absolutely loved First Light, I waited anxiously for the next novel from Stead - and then I took forever to read it! I don't know why. Maybe I was afraid her second book couldn't be as good as the first.

Did I say "wow" yet?

This book is nothing like First Light, in theme or in tone, but it is just as gripping. The descriptions are great - from page 151,

"I glanced at Sal, who was concentrating on his basketball like the whole concept of bouncing had just been invented and was really very amazing and deserving of attention."

And just after that;

"There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days."

The characters are all three-dimensional, but mostly we get to know Miranda. I knew I would love her as soon as I read that her favorite book - the only one she reads, in fact - is A Wrinkle in Time. (If you haven't read A Wrinkle in Time - and I really cannot conceive of a reader who has not read A Wrinkle in Time - go read that first, or this book will not make as much sense). The only thing about the characters - and it's a little thing - is that I didn't get that Julia was black. It was mentioned in the beginning almost in passing, and wouldn't have mattered at all, except that later in the book it DOES matter, but when it is mentioned at the beginning you aren't quite aware yet how much you need to pay attention to things that are mentioned almost in passing.

And if that sentence just made your head swim, you are now prepared for parts of this book. Not that the book is confusing, but you do need to pay attention. The thing is, there are so many other absorbing stories going on, it doesn't feel like a mystery novel where you want to get out a pad of paper and jot down clues.

It's just a fantastic book, and I feel like I am not doing it any justice in trying to explain why. The only beef I had with it besides Julia's character is that this is supposed to be set in 1979, and I didn't get a sense of that at all. No, I certainly did not want to see any stereotypical "black" speech or behavior from Julia, but if Stead wanted the time period to be important some cultural or historical references (besides a certain TV show) might have been helpful.

Again, though, just a little thing, and it in no way detracted from my inability to put it down! Give it to anyone who liked the Wrinkle in Time series, or Hannah's Winter or possibly The Mysterious Benedict Society (I don't know why that one comes to mind, it just does. Go with it.)

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