Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mike Suggests: When You Reach Me

I'm kicking myself for not attending our author's lecture when Rebecca Stead visited the library, especially after reading her well-deserved Newbery Award-winning book When You Reach Me. I don't know if I can keep from spoiling the surprises that Rebecca Stead constantly works into her narrative, but I'll try my best not to with this review.

Miranda is a sixth grader, a latch-key kid, and living with her mother in New York City in 1978. At first I thought it was a bit odd that the author would decide to set the book in a time that is relatively unknown for children--1978 doesn't evoke a historical period dress or even a funny way of speaking, and it isn't likely to be a period of time that they would attach any significant event to. But if you were a parent reading this book to your child you might . . . ah-ha! What I would consider the toughest gig in writing--making it accessible for both children & adults--is achieved. Now all you need is a good story . . . .

Rebecca Stead doesn't disappoint with her story. New York City can be a scary place, especially for a kid who's expected to walk home from school and stay locked in the apartment until mom comes home. And what happens when your best friend, your only friend, who walks home with you every day decides they don't want to be friends anymore? And then you start receiving strange and ominous messages on tiny slips of paper? Whoa, now you've got the reader hooked.

It's not a scary story, though--that's the best part. You're far more concerned about Miranda staying away from the crazy guy who lives with his head under the apartment mailbox, or navigating the shifting friendships that consume the lives of middle schoolers, or helping her mother prep for The $20,000 Pyramid than you are the foreboding notes. The notes are essential to the story--they drive the narrative--but as with all things in life, in order to be believable the main character has to have some real-life stuff happening, especially since the story's resolution is of such a fantastic nature--but I may have said too much already! So do yourself a favor and get the book now, read it with your favorite child (or adult), and marvel at Rebecca Stead's masterful storytelling.

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