Wednesday, September 2, 2009

REVIEW: When You Reach Me

Stead, R. (2009). When You Reach Me. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

Set in the late 1970s, twelve-year-old Miranda was named for a horrible kidnapper. Kinda. Her single mother, once a law student had to drop out and become a paralegal when she discovered she was pregnant, but that didn't stop her from naming her baby after the famous Miranda rights.
Told in the first person, with some jumps through time over several months, Miranda struggles with being a latch key kid, rereading A Wrinkle in Time, preparing her mom to appear on her favorite game show, being friends with girls, no longer being best friends with a boy, being friends with kids from different economic backgrounds, going by a potentially crazy homeless man each school day, race issues, the fact that her mom hates her job, etc.  Despite the fact that the book is set in the late 1970s, it's very timely (pun intended), with a mention of revamping the national healthcare system and mentions of the implications of global warming.
As they read, students may need some help making connections among some of the objects incorporated and understanding the way time is described.  Also, students would benefit from having previously read A Wrinkle in Time (although it is not strictly necessary...but Stead does give part of the ending away).  In contrast, kiddies should have an easy time relating with Miranda emotionally and in a plethora of different ways.  She is often jealous of classmates, she likes a boy for the first time, she has problems in her relationship with her mother, she lacks a father.  And on and on.
On the blog street, authors and reviews are already using the 'N-word' when mentioning this book. And by 'N-word,' I mean, 'Newbery.'  And the way so many elements of the narrative are interconnected to create deeper meanings, does parallel some other winners within the last decade (at several points I was reminded of The Higher Power of Lucky in terms of knot tying, absent fathers, and connecting elements, but this book didn't have the actually-intended-for-adults-memoir-feel).  But who knows what a group of librarians sequestered in a hotel will actually chose when January arrives.
As I was reading, I kept expecting the rest of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet to pop up.  The Wind in the Door was published five years before When You Reach Me was set, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet was published in 1978, the year part of this book took place.
This book could easily be paired with the classic science fiction novel A Wrinke in Time and could provoke conversations about physics, theories of time travel, etc.  Teachers could frame lessons about the events of the 1970s around the book, race relations, epilepsy, relationships with friends, etc.

In place of a test on When You Reach Me, the class could design a game show based off of the book and create trivia questions to answer and compete with.

Quotes of Note:

"So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She's going to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark" (p. 1).
"If I'm not wrong, this is the beginning of the story you wanted me to tell.  And I didn't know it yet, but it was also the end of my friendship with Sal" (p. 24).

"So I figure it's because I never had a father that I don't want one now.  A person can't miss something she never had" (p. 28).

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