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Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

February 16, 2012

When You Reach Me was the  2010 Newberry Award Winner.

It is really hard to review this book without giving away plot points.  Because, really, the best way to read it is to have absolutely no idea what you’re getting into.  Half the brilliance of this plot is the reader trying to figure out (right along with Miranda, the 12 year old main character) what in the world she’s supposed to be figuring out.

Set in the 1970s it’s something of a mystery, with coming of age elements, and a little sci-fi thrown in for good measure.  And really, I don’t know what else I can say without ruining it.  I’ll just move on to the other things I wanted to say.

I have mixed feelings about Newberry books.  One the one hand, I expect great things from a Newberry Award Winner.  They’re supposed to be awarded to the “Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children.”  So, I have high expectations.  On the other hand, well, I believe there’s been a sort of “dumbing down” of American Culture.  So, when I pick up a book with a shiny gold sticker on the front of it, I’m simultaneously preparing myself for something above average, and at the same time something significantly less of a product then say, for example, The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (1962 Newberry).
Which is maybe not the best frame of mind to be in when you open a book.  It just makes disappointment all the more likely.

To be clear, I have not read all the Newberry books.  I haven’t even read most of them. A couple of years ago I made myself the goal of reading as many Newberry Award winning books as I could. It was an awesome experience, and I read a LOT of them… but still not all of them.  And, really not enough.  🙂

Growing up I was mostly familiar with the Newberry Award books of an older era.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Johnny Tremain, The Whipping Boy… Books that make you understand the meaning of the phrase “Most Distinguished Contribution.”  Books that have made an impact on society.  I can’t say I see those sorts of qualities in the more recent Newberry winners.  But, I’m open to having my mind changed on this opinion. Please Newberry Winners!  Be AWESOME.  IMPRESS ME!

So, with all that in mind, here’s my thoughts (and remember it’s all just my opinion).

I am a huge fan of  minimalism in words.  It’s all so… natural.  Like seeing everything for yourself instead of through someone else’s eyes.  So, I like Stead’s writing style.  A lot.  I liked the whole format of the book.  Short chapters, just enough information to make everything necessary crystal clear.  Not a lot of word-y stuff clogging up the pages.  As the Newberry judges said: ‘Every scene and word is “vital to the plot.”‘  Um, YES.  🙂  I love that.

When You Reach Me has it’s profound moments.  Like when Miranda observes that  “Trying to forget really doesn’t work.  In fact, it’s pretty much the same as remembering.” Or when Belle says “It’s simple to love someone.  But, it’s hard to know when you should say it out loud.”  (But, in all fairness, Stead is really just stealing that from the climax of another Newberry Book A Wrinkle in Time.  She even says so.)  And there’s the whole self-sacrificing element.  And the taking responsibilities for your actions element.  All very good stuff.

I’m kind of in awe of this book.  I’m surprised that I was surprised at the surprise ending.  🙂  I’m loving the little glow in my chest that means I just read something special.

On the whole, a very nice way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday morning.  In your pajamas, of course, because as Stead also says “Pajamas are good for the soul.”  I’m totally with her on that one.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2012 7:50 am

    I agree with all of the above! It was a truly lovely book.

    (and you’re right. There is little that can compare with the greatness of The Bronze Bow!)

    • Rebecca permalink*
      February 16, 2012 9:05 am

      YAY! Someone else who loves The Bronze Bow!

  2. Susannah permalink
    February 16, 2012 8:28 am

    This book was an amazing experience to read! One of the few times I’ve read a whole book in one setting and could not put it down! It kept me more enthralled than any action movie I’ve ever seen!

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