Thursday, November 12

When You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb / Random House 2009

I'm going to punt on the review here. People have been talking, and mostly raving, about this book for the better part of this year so I don't know that I have much to add. Because I agree, it's good, and because I think others have said pretty much what I would have said. So in the interest of not clogging the blogosphere with more arterial review plaque I'll merely add those things that are personal, that wouldn't be duplicated elsewhere (I hope).

This was the first book I've read in some time that made me want to go back and re-read it instantly. I'm not a big re-reader, mostly because there's so much out there to read and I am, generally, a slow reader. But this was not only a breezy read but a fun one, and the feeling of wanting to steep more in its mood left me running to get back on the ride.

The book feels "classic." I don't know if it's because it taps into the river of nostalgia that I believe I share with the author – growing up when books like Harriet the Spy were new – of the strong memories I import into the books 70s settings, but this book reads to me like an older title that is still fresh today. Which, obviously, is peculiar when it's a new book.

Then there's the speculative fiction element. The book has a light touch and the multiple levels of time travel – a traveler from our contemporary future goes back to the past, as viewed from that past – is really satisfying. I'm sure there are some who could pick apart some of the time travel elements, but I don't care. If there are flaws they didn't bother me.

And we need more speculative fiction for middle grade readers. Not science fiction, not fantasy, not alien invasions (cute or menacing), but solid stories that deal with real middle grade issues and at the same time play with big ideas. Trend-watching aside, I personally think this is the greatest gap in middle grade fiction: stories about Big Ideas that do not have a "trouble story" or a dystopia at their core. I don't know if Ms. Stead sees the book this way, or if she'd rather think of it as simply what it is – a great middle grade book – but I'm telling you it falls right into a giant gap in the types of books kids enjoy.

Not much of a review, I admit, but I'd been putting this off for a couple months now because I didn't know if there was anything new to add to the din of what is already out there. I have a couple books that have fallen off the shelf, so to speak, and languished unreviewed because I was unable to get a grip on how to articulate my joy or excitement with them (I think Gennifer Choldenko's If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period might be the one that haunts me most for lack of review). So for other takes on When You Reach Me you might want to check out fuse #8's review, or the 100 Scope Notes review, or maybe the review. This book is showing up on a lot of Best Books and awards shortlists, and well-deserved I should think. But as far as I'm concerned if it won no awards or accolades it still sits in the rare pantheon in my experience - those books that bear rereading.
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