When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I have been reading more young adult fiction again. I tend to do this when life gets busy and complex.  Not that YA can’t be complex but that I often find it relaxing and different than what I encounter in my day job/real life. So I am weaving in YA along with the non-fiction I have pilled up in the TBR.

I had, of course, heard good things about When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (it was kind of a big deal when it was published) and had it on the “Need to Read” list for a while.  I believe it was on my Amazon wish list and my mother-in-law bought it for me.  When I was in one of those moods where it is hard to find anything to read despite having hundreds of books at hand, I picked it up and started reading.

Here is an ever-so-brief description:

As her mother prepares to be a contestant on the 1970s television game show, “The $20,000 Pyramid,” a twelve-year-old New York City girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes received from an anonymous source that seems to defy the laws of time and space.

I enjoyed it quite a bit but am rather hard pressed to describe it.  The setting, 1970’s Manhattan, looms large for example but in ways that are hard to explain.  There is something unique and central to the where and when that flavors the entire story.

Never having lived in New York City, although I did grow up in the 1970’s, I can’t judge whether Stead’s portrayal is accurate but I enjoyed viewing the world from that perspective. I enjoyed living in that world as it were, through the story.

I also enjoyed both the sort of magical realism, tied to the classic A Wrinkle in Time, and the realism of what it might be like to be a sixth-grader in the city and trying to come to grips with the complexities of life (latch-key kids, single motherhood, income disparities, violence, race, friendships, boys, etc.).

I found Miranda (and her mother) to be a great character with a unique and engaging voice.  In just a couple hundred pages, Stead puts you in this world and captures the perspective and voice of a sixth grader.

There is a subtlety to the story and while the chronology is not exactly straightforward, and it is not fast paced in the normal sense, I found it a quick, engaging & entertaining read.

So if you have heard all the praise but haven’t gotten around to reading When You Reach Me I encourage you to do what I did and pick it up. Well worth your time.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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