Rebecca Stead's Newbery-award winning When You Reach Me is set in New York City in the late 70s. Twelve year old Miranda is a latch-key kid. Her mother drills her on safety techniques, and a creepy homeless guy ("The Laughing Man") lives outside her apartment building. She only ever reads one book, A Wrinkle in Time, and she carries it with her wherever she goes. But when her best (and only) friend, Sal, stops interacting with her altogether the day he gets randomly punched by a mysterious kid named Marcus, her world begins to open up in all sorts of unexpected ways. She makes new friends, among them someone who was formerly her enemy; she helps her mother prepare for her appearance on the $20,000 Pyramid game show; and she receives mysterious notes that accurately describe things that are going to happen in the future. The details of this small but intricate mystery are unraveled slowly, through short chapters (many of their titles are patterned after Pyramid categories: "Things that Blow Away," "Things That Turn Upside Down"), and are well worth the wait.
The bulk of the story is actually autobiographical. Stead does a great job of recreating the feel of the urban landscape of her childhood: the endlessly walked route between home and school, with occasional deviations to friends' apartments; the network of adults with whom Miranda interacts; and numerous small details (mimeographs, $2 bills, Vietnam) that build a realistic tone. The discussion of time travel in which Miranda, Marcus, and Julia engage did sprain my brain for a while, but I appreciated that Stead didn't dumb it down for any reader of any age. She assumes we can keep up. The net effect of this (setting + time travel) was to remind me of books I read when I was twelve, and I found that familiarity very enjoyable.
I listened to When You Reach Me in what seemed like the blink of an eye; it was only four discs long. I guess that's the difference between most children's books and doorstops like The Gathering Storm. The single narrator was fairly competent, although sometimes it was difficult to distinguish between her adult characters. I would probably recommend this book to kids who are reading ahead (tweens) as well as teens and adults. It doesn't feel particularly bound to one age range.
I haven't spent much time watching the $20,000 Pyramid (or any of its other, larger-denomination iterations). If I'm going to watch old game shows, I definitely prefer Match Game. Perhaps this is because I'm just not very good at the Pyramid, especially the Winner's Circle part.
Reading this really made me want to grab A Wrinkle in Time off my shelf, but that would be violating my "only read new-to-me" books rule. Most of what Miranda said about the plot was actually unfamiliar, because it's been so long, but I do remember really liking it as a child. I guess I should probably re-read it before the new movie comes out?
Dead Mother: No
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