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The Bookshelf: “When You Reach Me”

By Josie Rerecich

Staff Writer

“When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead is a Newbery Medal winning science-fiction mystery novel. Telling the story of Miranda Sinclair, an average sixth-grader living
in the Upper West Side of New York City during the late 1970s. It first appears to be a coming-of-age story, involving her best friend Sal getting punched by a bully named Marcus and the ramifications of that event on their friendship. But as the book goes on, Miranda begins to find mysterious notes addressed to her. They ask the young girl to tell a story that has not yet happened, but one the author of the notes clearly already knows.

These mysterious notes warn Miranda that the life of a friend, and the author, are at stake. The author insists that he can save their lives if Miranda delivers a letter telling the story to him after the event takes place. To gain Miranda’s trust, the anonymous author writes three little clues to her. Each clue leads to something that in turn leads her to the true identity of the author. Unfortunately, the author dies while saving a life.

Along the way, a homeless man begins sleeping under a mailbox near Miranda’s apartment building, Miranda’s single mother prepares for an appearance on “The $20,000 Pyramid”, and Miranda learns that Marcus isn’t really a bully; he just thinks differently. Through all of this, Miranda rereads Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, leading to a discussion with Marcus about time travel, and ultimately to Miranda solving the mystery of the notes. By the end of the novel, Miranda’s experiences through the past few months lead her to the conclusion that the author of the notes wasn’t just one person.

While this novel is a science fiction story, it disguises itself as a coming-of-age story so well that it is almost impossible to define its real genre until it ends. In addition to this, there are three separate storylines that are not told in chronological order: Miranda’s mom on the game show, Sal not talking to Miranda, and the sudden appearance of the homeless man. These storytelling techniques lead to the satisfying payoff, but they make reading the novel a bit confusing. But all in all, “When You Reach Me” is a wonderful novel to spend some time reading.

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