Thursday, October 1, 2009

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (ages 9 - 13)

Have you ever finished a book and wanted to start reading it all over again, it was so intriguing?  When I read Rebecca Stead's new novel, When You Reach Me, I was fascinated and gripped by the ending.  I didn't see it coming, and I just wanted to start all over again.  My daughter and I just finished reading this, and she loved its combination of a realistic friendship story with a fantasy twist.
When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
NY: Wendy Lamb Books, 2009
audio: NY: Listening Library, 2009
ages 9 - 13
Sixth-grader Miranda's world is turning upside down.  Her best friend Sal doesn't want to talk to her, for some inexplicable reason. Now Miranda (Mira for short) must find a new best friend at school. And tiny, mysterious notes start turning up in private places, like the pocket of her winter coat that's been in the closet since last March. The notes say things like “I am coming to save your friend’s life and my own” and “You will want proof. 3 p.m. today: Colin’s knapsack.” Miranda doesn’t know who is writing these things or where they are coming from but it is absolutely clear that the person who wrote the notes knows things that no one could know.

The good news is, Mira’s mother gets a postcard telling her she will finally get her shot on The $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark on April 27, 1979 – “Just like you said.” This is the first clue: something larger is going on here. The person writing these notes knew ahead of time that Mira’s mother would get her chance with Dick Clark on that particular day.  Who could this be? Why are they doing this?

I found the interview with Rebecca Stead on Amazon particularly interesting.  Here's a short excerpt: At the very beginning of the novel, we learn that Miranda’s mom is going to be a contestant on the 1970’s TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid. Without giving away the ending, why is this opportunity so important for them as a family?

Rebecca Stead: They need the money! Part of what’s happening for Miranda during this year is that she gets pushed outside of her formerly tiny world. Not far, but enough for her to start thinking about class, and the way other people live. She starts to see the way she lives in a new way, and has to deal with that. It’s the beginning of that kind of awareness for her, and so the money they hope to win has a lot of meaning for her, but it’s a meaning that changes.
This would make a lovely book to read with a book club for 5th and 6th graders.  When You Reach Me, captures the interior monologue and observations of kids who are starting to recognize and negotiate the complexities of friendship and family, class and identity.  It's a book they'll be able to relate to, but that will fascinate them as well.

Audiobook lovers: this is a wonderful story to listen to. We actually listened to some of it, and then read some of it aloud. You can play a sample of it here:

Would you like to take a peak inside?  Check out RandomHouse's website:

Other reviews abound:

Twenty by Jenny says: "This coming-of-age story, narrated by 12-year-old Mira, touts the rewards of independent thinking and the pleasures of rereading."

Kate Messner, teacher and author, says: the characters are "authentic, multi-faceted, funny, and real.  Their story of friendship and first crushes and first jobs would have been enough to win me over. But then the letter comes." Kate just finished reading this to her 7th grade class and cried. So powerful.

Stop by your local bookstore to find it, or ask at your local public library. I bought my copy through Amazon.  If you like friendship stories, also check out Al Capone Shines My Shoes.  I just finished this and loved it.

If you make a purchase by clicking through to Amazon, Great Kid Books receives a small percentage, which will be used to buy more books to review.

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