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.)
- Things You Read
- Things that Make “When You Reach Me” a Mysterious Book
- Things that Mystify
- Things that are Great About this Book
- Things that are Mysterious
- Things that You Read
- Things that Make a Story Mysteriously Good
- Things that Make This a Good Book
- Things that are Hard to Explain (Like this Book)
- Things that Make Good Books
- When You Reach Me
- Things that Make this Book So Great
- Things that Make “When You Reach Me” a Good Book
- Things That Make This Book Interesting
- Things That are Good About “When You Reach Me”
- Things that are Confusing until the End (Spoiler)
22 responses to “Here and Back Again: Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me”
thank you for sharing this vivid post about this extraordinary book.
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I wrote to you earlier today about the ARC of When You Reach Me. I read Monica’s post and fired off an email immediately. Now that I’ve gone back and read some of your comments about the book, I am incredibly eager to get a copy asap: it sounds amazing, and it sounds as though my students would love it. If I get hold of it early enough, I may even be able to give it to one or two of my current 5th graders before they graduate in a couple of weeks.
Have a great summer.
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When You Reach Me is the BEST BOOK EVER…. When You Reach Me involves an actual paradox, but all good time travel stories inherently need to resolve the paradox with their own internal logic…. I love the figuring out of the looping chronology of time travel stories….
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I was so excited to find your description of reading WHEN YOU REACH ME to your class, and especially to read all of the blog entries that your students wrote about it in response to the assignment you gave them. I’ve been thinking about what I, as a writer for children, could learn about the craft of writing from Rebecca Stead–what “writing tips” I can take away from her careful plot structure, vivid characters and engaging voice. Thank you for sharing the description of your teaching and your students’ work. Hoping to steer more readers to your and your students’ posts, I’ve quoted bits of two of their posts and linked to yours, and theirs, in my Friday, November 6th post on our Storysleuths blog. I’ll be keeping track of your reading and teaching and students’ writing from now on!
Meg, thanks so much. I have checked out your blog and found the posts fascinating.
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I’m so glad I found your blog post (via goodreads). My son (also a 4th grader) just started this yesterday and he has all sorts of questions, so I began reading it after he went to bed. Your post is very helpful in guiding him through. He was never interested in Harry Potter and tends to stick to the Captain Underpants, Diary of Wimpy Kid and other similar series books so this is the first complex book he’s tackling.
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Thanks for the songs, I will check it out.
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I LOVED THE BOOK. In my experience, it made my brain all itchy at times but it came together nicely in the end.
My 4th grade son is roughly 60% finished with the novel. I am so excited as he is not a strong reader or an interested reader, normally, but he is quite taken with this book. I have started to read it as well and am enjoying it.