When You Reach Me
When You Reach Me
Fiction, MG Mystery/Sci-Fi
Themes: Classics, Cross-Genre, Diversity, Girl Power, Time Travel, Urban Tales
Sixth-grader Miranda found the first note in a book. It made no sense, rambling about how she had to write a letter (but not yet) and saying someone was coming to save her friend's life. What friend? Her best friend since infancy, Sal, went all moody after a strange boy punched him in the street and doesn't talk to her anymore, and her new friends aren't really the same. And who could've written it? Her overworked single mother? Mom's boyfriend Richard? Strange kid Marcus? The "laughing man" who lives by the corner mailbox and rants at traffic? None of them could've gotten into her room to place the note, could they? Then another note arrives, containing information nobody could know. The strange coincidences begin adding up as Miranda's world turns on its head. Maybe someone is warning her of a danger - but what danger? And is it already too late?
This is one of the stranger stories I've read in some time. Clearly inspired by Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (Miranda's favorite book, which she talks about at borderline-spoiler length), it's both a mystery and a science fiction tale. The scale may be small, centered around Miranda's city school and small apartment and circles of friends, enemies, and familiar strangers, but the ideas are large. By placing the tale in the late 1970's, Stead removes many of the modern trappings and conveniences that would collapse the sense of wonder; she has no internet to turn to for answers, no cell phone tether, and no digital distraction to keep her from noticing the many small details that add up to something profound. The cast is full of nicely rounded, human characters whose quirks hint at complicated pasts. Their relationships undergo stress and rearrangement as events unfold. The plot starts a little slow, with the bigger ideas (the mystery of the notes and possible time travel connection) as mere background noise, but as things pick up that noise grows louder until it reaches a crescendo at the rapid climax. When it all comes together, it's not just about the strange elements but the bonds of friendship and power of love. I gave it an extra half-star for how all the little pieces click together at the end, and for the many little touches that made the story and its inhabitants feel so real.