A gem of a book – subtle, sensitive and lovely – I can see why it won the Newberry Prize in 2009. The biggest success is the central character; she is an absolute delight to read about. Miranda is precocious but never annoying, clever, curious and possessing an old soul that makes her moments of innocence so devastating, in a wonderful kind of way.
Miranda is a not-quite teen who finds herself in the middle of a puzzle. She is trying to get her head around mysterious notes and stolen belongings and somebody who seems to know everything that is about to happen before it’s even happened. And all this at a time when her best friend Sal has, without a reason, shut her out, and her Mum is about to go for a shot at money and fame on a TV game show.
When You Reach Me is in the mode of magical realism, with the emphasis, I think, on reality – the intricacies of friendship, the complexities of growing up and the moments that make us realise our childhood is coming to an end. This is a time both sad and beautiful: bewildering but precious because how we deal with it gives us clues to the adult we will become. This crossover between being a child and becoming an adult is really, I believe, what this book is dealing with, and it does it beautifully. What Miranda thinks and feels and the way she sees things and expresses herself is so spot on, so childlike but perceptive at the same time. I loved it.
The plot is also clever, and woven throughout the book quite splendidly. I was constantly wondering where the story was going and how it was all going to fit together and play out. The real joy is, of course, going with Miranda as she pieces it all together as well. I was not quite sold on the premise, or idea as a whole – maybe I found it a bit too neat, or... I don’t know. Something niggled at me, the tiniest bit. But it was not enough to destroy my overall enjoyment and appreciation of the book.
Read When You Reach Me for the gorgeous central character, insightful, aware story-telling and poignant capturing of what it means to be a child trying to make sense of the world.
"I sat on the couch and closed my eyes. I pictured the world. I pictured the world millions of years ago, with crazy clouds of gas everywhere, and volcanoes, and the continents bumping into each other and then drifting apart ... Now fast-forward. The earth is still making loops around the sun.There are humans all over the place, driving in cars and flying in aeroplanes. And then one day one human tells another human that he doesn't want to walk to school with her anymore.
'Does it really matter?' I asked myself.