Scoop of the e-e-evening: When You Reach Me

I can usually tell by chapter three if a book is going to be a year-end favorite. By chapter three, I’ve come up at least once, murmuring, this is a good. book. With Rebecca Stead’s novel, When You Reach Me, I was neutral through page 133.

The writing was strong—“I walked up the hill, where the sunlight seemed to touch everything like it was a hyper kid running all over a toy store—it bounced off the dirty metal lampposts, the shiny brass awning posts, even the sunglasses of a woman walking her dogs with a cup of coffee in one hand. Everything shined.”

But nothing blew me away. It wasn’t shaping up to be a “more than” story. There are so many MG novels written each year, all about the microcosm. I want bigger things in a book. I want a story that makes me think about more than life—I want Life.

133 pages may sound like a long time to stay impartial, but the remaining story? It’s worth it.

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.

It’s been so long since I first met Meg Murray. I was twelve, I believe. The perfect age to discover L’Engle. Once A Wrinkle in Time had captivated me, I proceeded to devour the Murray stories (A Swiftly Tilting Planet wrenched my innermost parts), the Austin stories (A Ring of Endless Light refused to let go), to be encouraged by her thoughts on writing, to be challenged by her theological musings.

Within the last few years, I’ve become aware of "Christian neopagan" themes in her ideas (and yes, I do take such allegations with a grain of salt--but it still made me approach her with a little more caution.) What the knowledge didn’t do is dampen the wellsprings of my love for Madeleine’s stories. And it’s a love for Madeleine’s stories that drives When You Reach Me. Minutes after closing it, I went upstairs, made myself a mug of cocoa, and snuggled back down with a dusty book, too long neglected, fraught with delight—A Wrinkle in Time. And it was good.

Suffice it to say, if you love L’Engle, Stead’s novel will satisfy. Maybe you won’t realize the satisfaction until the last paragraph, or the last sentence, but at that moment, you will nod and murmur—this is a good. book.

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