Daily Archives: May 1, 2009

Here and Back Again: Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me

As I read I sneak occasional peeks to see my students’ faces. They are sitting up, tense and alert, wide eyed with open mouths.  Once in a while, without taking his or her eyes off of me, one will whisper a shocked comment to a neighbor.  As more information is revealed some can’t help but blurt out guesses.  Marcus! The Laughing Man!  Sal?

It is clear that I must finish the book today.

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me isn’t out until July, but I feel I must write about it now while my experience with it and my fourth grade class is still fresh.  I picked up the ARC at ALA, read and enjoyed it, but it was reading it aloud to the kids that caused me to appreciate what a marvelous book it is. During this second reading it was a delight to see how slyly and elegantly Stead wove her strands of plot, developed character, and steadily built her world into a remarkable finale. The chapters are very short with enigmatic final paragraphs that absolutely demand you keep going.  What is this all about? my students wondered.  Urgently they begged me to read more.  And more. And more.

Twelve-year old Miranda is telling her story to someone; we know that from the start. And so it is clearly a mystery, a very complex one. It is also the story of friendship — how new ones develop for Miranda and old ones change. It is about a time and a place —  Miranda’s 1979 Upper West Side New York City neighborhood.  And it is something else too — something that turns it into something other than a realistic novel, a period piece, a conventional mystery or relationship story.  Betsy Bird calls it the LOST book and, having read it twice, I know why.  But rest assured that it is totally different in feeling and sensibility — a clean and lovely book that many a young reader is going to adore.  I hope some of them adore it as much as Miranda does a book I too loved at her age, A Wrinkle in Time.

Do be aware that this is not a simple read.  Young readers need to just go with it — and be patient as eventually most questions (but not all) are answered.  I can imagine that some may find the complicated knots and threads of the story confusing, especially those used to having their plots delivered more systematically.  I wondered about this myself which is one reason I read the book aloud to my students — I will be interested to hear about other children who read it on their own.

I finished reading to my class on Wednesday and yesterday, after a wonderful discussion about it,  they wrote blog posts for you, dear blog readers, so you could know how one group of young readers responded to the book.  Please go read them and, even better, comment as they are eager for these. (Oh, one more thing — the $20,000 Pyramid game show is an important element in the story and chapter titles thus the titles my students chose to give to their posts.)



Filed under Children's Literature