Book: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Genre(s): Very difficult to categorize, but here goes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction (in some ways)
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 208 pages
Other: Newbery Award Winner, 2010
Summary: Sixth-grader Miranda is having, well, a sort of weird time lately. Her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped talking to her, and won’t say why. There’s a bum who’s recently taken up residence on the corner near her apartment building (located in 1970s Upper West Side Manhattan), and who creeps her out with his sudden laughing episodes. And then there are the cryptic notes that start appearing in odd places where no one could have access.
What does it all mean? Figuring out what is going on is half the fun of this literary sci fi realistic mystery. (Yes, this book does indeed defy categorization!)
To whom will this appeal?: When You Reach Me is a literary novel written for the “middle grades” (and as such has extremely well-observed and realistic middle grade characters) but will appeal to a number of different “constituencies.” Fans of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which, incidentally, won the Newbery Award in 1963) will appreciate the literary (and timeless) quality of Stead’s writing. Stead herself is a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, as evidenced by the ubiquitous AWIT references in WYRM. In fact, one could go so far as to say that reading (or re-reading) A Wrinkle in Time is a necessary prerequisite to properly enjoying When You Reach Me.
It is a pity that many libraries will only carry this in their children’s section, as this book has an appeal for all ages, especially the teen or adult who enjoys the challenge of solving a tantalizing esoteric mystery that is zillions of miles away from (and more sophisticated than) the average juvenile mystery. Any child/teen/adult who has enjoyed the books of E. L. Konigsburg (especially From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View from Saturday) will be very likely enjoy WYRM.
Another audience to whom the book will appeal is adults who may have grown up in, or relish the description of, 1970s New York. The description of late 70s era NYC — the freedom the kids had, the vague feeling of danger and yet innocence, the falling-apart-ness of buildings, the ethos of the time — is extremely well-done. While tweens or teens may also appreciate this description, I suspect that the draw of this type of historical detail is especially strong for those who have lived through the era and in the place. (Having myself lived in 1979 NYC, this observation may well be colored by my personal experience!)