Laurinda’s Rating: 4.5/5
The 2010 Newbery Medal Winner, When You Reach Me, is an incredibly touching, genre-defying story. Set in 1970’s NYC, it’s not really historical fiction. Although the ending hints at uninvented technology, neither is it science-fiction. Rather, When You Reach Me is the deceptively simple story of a girl’s daily life as she navigates the challenges of friendship and growing up.
Miranda is a latch-key child, responsible for herself after school because her mother works as a paralegal. For a long time, Miranda walked home with her downstairs neighbour Sal, but he pulled away following a bullying incident. This drives Miranda to form a friendship with Annemarie, whose father makes all her snacks from scratch and generally hovers. One day, Miranda receives a note in which several future occurrences are predicted. As they start to come true, she is equally creeped out and intrigued. Meanwhile, Miranda is building positive relationships with those around her: she talks to Marcus, a brilliant but odd kid who lives near her, she offers to be a bathroom buddy to the girl in her class who is too shy to ask to go to the toilet, and she makes peace with a girl of whom she was jealous.
In the climax, the laughing man, Miranda’s pet name for the homeless man who lives outside her building, saves Sal from being crushed by a truck, at the cost of his own life. Miranda comes to believe that the laughing man was future Marcus (present Marcus was obsessed with the mechanics of time travel and Miranda found a portrait of present Marcus’ crush hidden under the mailbox). Miranda’s mom wins some money in the $20,000 Dollar Pyramid. With her boyfriend and Miranda’s prompting, she decides to use it to finish law school, and to finally accept her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Miranda writes up the story of what happened, as the anonymous notes asked her to, and plans to give it to Marcus.
This story was excellent. The author winds Miranda’s (and Marcus’ and Julia’s) love of A Wrinkle in Time into the story as a whole, even making a related element one of the big plot twists. Most of all, however, the characters are incredibly well-developed and believable, even the minor ones. She makes you appreciate the cranky sandwich store owner as much as Miranda’s friends. Seemingly disparate occurrences eventually weave themselves together into a very interesting, cohesive whole.
I highly recommend this to most audiences. It might particularly appeal to those who enjoy mysteries, as well as those who loved A Wrinkle in Time. The recommended grade range is 4-9. The only even semi-objectionable content is the sacrifice the laughing man makes when he chooses to save Sal and is crushed by the oncoming truck. Thinking back to my own life, the shifting alliances and friendships of those transitional grades, particularly 4th through 7th or so, would make this story ring true particularly for that age.