When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This year’s Newbery winner was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I was not that impressed when I finished the book, but following my discussion in class, I developed a greater appreciation for the book and can see why it was chosen.

Summary (without giving too much away):

A twelve year old girl in 1970s New York City is helping her single mom prepare for the gameshow $20,000 Pyramid. She deals with losing friends and making friends, but the mystery that will grab the reader from the beginning is Miranda begins to receive mysterious and desperate notes asking for her help.

Why did this book win the Newbery?

According to Newbery’s criteria, “The book should display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.”

I think the voice of Miranda was both accurate and credible. Her views of New York, adults, friendship are all typical of a child her age and voiced in such a way that you believe everything she says. The book showed a lot of progression in how Miranda views the world, particularly through her relationships with her friends and where she fits into the world. Many of the ways and words in which Miranda expresses herself are distinctly child views, but not childish. Just a first understanding of how things work. For example, the chapter about the dentist. Miranda expresses that it’s weird to go to the dentist in school, is lectured by Wheelie, and then thinks about what her mother would do if she knew about a free dentist at school. Miranda reveals her innocence, learns a lesson, and then uses her parent as reference to frame the information, which is typical of a child. Miranda also has a fantastic sense of humor, and makes countless wry statements that will have you smiling to yourself, if not laughing out loud.

The well-knit ending probably earned this book the quality of being “individually distinct.” I don’t want to ruin anything, but the ending brings the whole book together, and you see that EVERY SINGLE MOMENT had a specific purpose within the story.

Why I didn’t like the book initially:

It irked me that we, the readers, were purposely left out of the loop when it was clear the narrator knew the whole story at points. I realize this would have ruined the surprise ending, but I don’t like that the author withheld information known to the narrator. I think this is a cheap suspense technique that only confuses and frustrates your reader.

My favorite part of the book:

The similes. The author created some really fresh and original images through the use of similes. This book had some really memorable images that will stick with you after you finish. For example: There was one description of a girl who needed to use the restroom in class: “Alice Evans was squirming in her chair like she was doing the hula dance.” That part made me giggle!

I’d love to hear what other people thought of this book!

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