Gwen & Kate's Library

Two sisters' reviews of Young Adult and Middle Grade books, inspired by their lovely library.

Gwen & Kate’s Thoughts on When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

While this book is really at a middle grade level, narrated by a 12-year-old 6th grader, it is an enjoyable book for all ages, and doesn’t read at a young level. Both Kate and I loved this book and read it in a day each, finding it hard to tear our eyes away from the pages.


Series: None!

Genres: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction

Rating: 5 stars

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Gwen’s Review:

I read When You Reach Me many years ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly. The other day Kate and I discovered it at a used bookstore we frequently visit, and immediately took turns reading it. It is often categorized as both a middle grade and a young adult book, and after reading it I see why. When picking up the book again after all this time, I was surprised by how thin it was (only about 200 pages), because in my memory this book was a mature, high-level young adult book. While this book is really at a middle grade level, narrated by a 12-year-old 6th grader, it is an enjoyable book for all ages, and doesn’t read at a young level. Both Kate and I loved this book and read it in a day each, finding it hard to tear our eyes away from the pages.

Something unique I adored about this book was the chapter titles. They were not numbered, and most began with “Things that…”, for example “Things that Fall Apart” or “Things in an Elevator.” Kate had to explain this to me at first, because I didn’t understand the significance. The chapter headings are a reference to the game that the main character’s mother won a place in, a game show called The $20,000 Pyramid, and in the Winner’s Circle round, the contestants must guess categories, in the form of “Things that,” when given a list of words. Each chapter had a small reference to the chapter heading, such as potato chips in “Salty Things” and a first kiss in “Things that Turn Upside Down.”

The fantastic part about When You Reach Me is the perfect combination of contemporary (well, 1979) fiction, science fiction, and mystery, and a wonderful, attention-grabbing writing style that makes it a wonderful read for any age and genre preference. The style of mystery, while the actual book mood and subject was very different, reminded me a lot of my recent read, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, which also has a beautiful, entirely unexpected twist ending. Another similarity I found between the two books is that they both refer to a classic book as the main character’s favorite many times, Jane Eyre in The Thirteenth Tale and A Wrinkle in Time in When You Reach Me, which makes me want to read those classics and discover even more about both books (I have read A Wrinkle in Time before, but it (IT) freaked me out and I didn’t love it).

One thing I found less satisfactory was the fact that Sal, one of the main characters and Miranda’s best friend, seemed very under-developed compared to the other characters. This was mostly due to the fact that early on he shuns Miranda and their life-long friendship comes to a temporary end, so he doesn’t play a large part in most of the book. Because of his absence, it is sometimes hard to feel the connection Miranda feels, having known him all her life, since the reader has only gotten a little (and not very good) picture. Another thing I didn’t love was how confusing the timeline of this book is. Miranda jumps all around in her story telling, and even at the end I was a little confused about what happened when. I do realize that this has a lot to do with the subject of the book, but that’s hard to go in depth about without spoiling.

All things considered, When You Reach Me is a fantastic, fast-pased story that is a wonderful read for middle grade readers, a quick read for young adult readers, and a good childhood reminder for adults. This is definitely a book I will go back to again and again, and encourage my children to read (so I can read it again too).

Kate’s Comments:

It’s good. It’s cool. (Gwen: You’re not very articulate, Kate.) It’s reachable (Gwen: I’m not sure what you mean by that.) Why is this book good? Well, why is the earth round? It just is.

I didn’t specifically like any of the characters, but I liked the mystery and I liked how she didn’t “go” on any adventures. It was just a girl living her normal (somewhat poor) live, and she had a mysterious adventure basically “thrown” upon her.

I also read Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy, which was a DCF (Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award — a Vermont children’s vote book award) last year, and was really good, but had a really weird ending. It is a similar style book, and I would recommend it to lovers of When You Reach Me.

I have very strong feelings against A Wrinkle in Time, since I saw the movie and hated it, so this book does not make me want to read it. Some people might say, “then you should read the book since it is better than the movie,” but I just don’t like the storyline. But if you hate a movie, I don’t think you’d like the book much better (unless it is completely changed, like the 6th Harry Potter).


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This entry was posted on August 23, 2014 by in Author: Gwen, Author: Kate, Favorites, Middle Grade, Review, Young Adult and tagged , .
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