Miranda and Sal are best friends, until the day they are not. Until the day Sal takes a punch to the stomach. Until the first day of the story she must write in a letter…to someone. Suddenly, Sal no longer wants to walk to school with Miranda, and the first of four strange notes appear. Someone is writing to her. Someone with a keen knowledge of her life. Someone who knows things before they happen. Someone who wants her to record all of it.
Wow. Let me say that again. Wow. Every detail, every character, every event in this book is crucial to the outcome of the story. We’re given a homeless man, a bully who isn’t really a bully, and a few classmates that Miranda befriends when Sal is off doing his own thing, all separate threads. But just underneath the surface they are pulling tight, borrowing shades and colors from A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, and weaving into something beautifully new. (You need not read Wrinkle beforehand, but I’d recommend it–on its own strength as well as for background.)
Content is pretty harmless. Miranda’s mom does swipe a lot of inconsequential items from work, but she also refuse to give her boyfriend a key to her place. The value of friendship is a major theme, even to the point of sacrifice. Unfortunately, the book contains two mild profanities and a few OMGs. We’re also given a page of evolution as a broad history for mankind. Therefore it doesn’t earn a Squeaky Award. But the story is engaging, intricate and beautifully done. Miranda is a character I could cheer for. She’s in a tough place. She’s poor, from a single-parent home, and friendless. But she’s honorable, and she comes out better than when she went in.
Sweet adventure factor: I would call When You Reach Me more of a journey to maturity than a true adventure, though there is a strong element of science fiction in it. I was able to foresee the ending, the tying of threads, about halfway through the book, but the getting there is fresh and suspenseful and clever. It’s not sticky sweet. It’s not really even feel-good at the end. But the whole book is right. In fact, it’s just the kind of book I like best. It didn’t win the 2010 Newbery for nothing.
I must warn you, I had a strong hankering for a sub sandwich—preferably one from Jimmy’s–or a piece of pizza as I read this one. Grab one with a soda then sink in for a few very good hours in 1978-9 New York City.
Roughly a fifth grade reading level.