When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Random House Audio, 2009
It was a long time ago that I first read about this book on Abby (the) Librarian's blog. I've wanted to read it since, and I kept seeing it on the shelf. So when the opportunity arose to read it with my very tiny book club for older kids (generally 9 - 12 years old) I figured that would be an excellent opportunity.
At first, I'll be honest, I worried I'd made a wrong choice, and that if I was kind of meh about the book, the kids would be especially meh. But the further I got into it, the more I liked it; and by the time the end rolled around, I did that thing again where I debate sitting in the car and finishing it before heading into work (I didn't. There wasn't enough time.) I think part of my reluctance at first was the reader; she is good, but there were several times where I took issue with her interpretation, and I also found her adult voices to be pretty jarring. That said, I tend to start and then drop a lot of kids' audiobooks based on unlistenable (for me) narrators, and this one I kept listening to rather than giving up and reading the book instead.
The basic premise is this: Miranda is a 12-year-old girl growing up in the late 1970s in New York. Her best friend lives in the same apartment building; she and Sal have been friends for as long as she can remember. But one day, out of the blue, Sal gets punched by another boy, and shuts Miranda out of his life entirely. And other strange things start happening, like the random notes Miranda begins to find, notes that seem to know more about her and what her future holds than they should. Miranda tells us this story in a very confessional, almost diary-like format, and we watch the world from her eyes. She is telling this story to each person who hears it or reads it individually; but also to one specific person in her life, someone we don't recognize until the very last chapters.
What is most interesting to me about this book is that it's often classified as fantasy, but the bit I would classify as fantasy is so miniscule, so incidental until the very end that it doesn't quite fit in that genre for me. The vast majority of the book is about Miranda's life, her mother, her challenges with making new friends and dealing with the others in her class, her first crush, and growing up over a period of several months in New York City. It was these sections of the book I found most engaging (which is good, because they were 90% of where we spent our time) and though I expected more magic, I wasn't dismayed. As in my last review, I rather enjoy books where the magic is not the driver for the story. Here it could have been, and that's what makes the choices Stead made as far as focus so interesting.
I did particularly appreciate the ending of this book; it wasn't wrapped up in an unbelievable way, it took just the right amount of time once we realized what was happening, and it didn't distance itself from the reader. I enjoyed watching the pieces of the puzzle slotted neatly where they needed to be, as much as Miranda did.
I've noticed myself thinking about this book regularly since I finished it, which is always a good sign. I enjoyed it as an adult, but I think I would have loved it as a kid, and I'll be very interested to see what the kids in the book club think about it. It gives us lots of fodder to talk about, even if they didn't like it as much as I hope they do. Recommended.