Sunday, 25 September 2011

When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead

I have seen this book around often on various places: the blogosphere, bookshops, the library. But for some reason, I was always a bit dubious about reading it - I have no idea why and still don't. Weird.
This book mostly caught me because of the name of the author. I hardly a name of Rebecca by an author so it was a pleasant surprise to find one in the YA section.

Synopsis: Living in a big city can be scary sometimes, especially if the city in question is New York City. For Miranda and Sal, best friends, they have grown up knowing their way around the dangerous neighbourhood. But then this safety starts to unravel. Sal gets punched randomly by a kid on their way home and starts avoiding Miranda. The key to the apartment in emergencies is stolen. Nothing is stolen but a pair of shoes. No evidence is left but a scrap of paper with a note addressed to Miranda asking her to write a story. Soon, she finds more and she starts to realise that the sender is hinting at something tragic to happen. But what and how can Miranda stop it? 

Review: This book seems to be quite innocent and basic from the outside, looking at the cover - but it isn't. It is much more complicated and bigger a plot than that.
Firstly, the cover. To an outsider, it means probably nothing. A few pictures randomly on the blocks. Well, actually, when you read this book, you will discover these little illustrations mean things for this book, which I really liked. Like finding out the secrets to the cover - why it is like that. Covers are great things to have and I know I 'judge a book by its cover' a lot. But sometimes, publishers just go neutral so you have no idea what a book can hold.  

The book itself is a fantastic read to come across. I wasn't expecting much, however. After a series of reading books recommended by bloggers and not liking them at all, I wasn't expecting this one to be a good read - but it intrigued me. This book is not perfect - it has some flaws, but it is a delightful read (and unexpected for me) and even though, writing quite simply, it is a book I would recommend to anyone.

One thing that makes it is the mystery and deception of these letters Miranda continuously receives. I had ideas on who the sender was at the beginning - and was half right. The thing about the notes is they get more confusing and suspicious every time - and vague. Your mind is constantly churning wondering what on earth they could be leading up to and then, when you get to the event, you (and Miranda) understand what it all means. However, if I had received these notes, I would FREAK OUT especially in a city like that where I have already been burgled. Except, Miranda doesn't, or if she does, it doesn't seem like she cares much at all. It's a little unreal I think, but doesn't ruin the book for me.

The characters also credit the book, and the different relationships Miranda has with these various people. My personal favourite was Sal's mum, who made some hilarious remarks and is worried for everyone instead of themselves. She is good friends with Miranda's family and they live on the floor downstairs so she is in the book quite often, making these comments. I DID not like Julia or Annemarie, even though they become Miranda's friends. They were just too posh, too unlike the protagonist, too bitchy! They are the type of people I would have stayed clear of. 

Like I said, and someone told me on the comments section, this book is aimed mostly for those in fifth grade to about eighth grade (Year 6-9) so being in 'eleventh grade (Year 12)', I am probably the wrong person to be reviewing this book. The language is simple and there are rarely elaborate descriptions but it is a fun, lovely novel and a novelty after studying books that are more complicated. 
There is this childish, innocent element of time-travel which, for me being a Doctor Who fan, was interesting to read about as many books avoid this kind of subject. The spacey element runs throughout the book and is incorporated in the ending, making it very different again. Although the ending wasn't as great as the rest of the book, it is very unique to this book and I can see why they would put it in this age range.

Talking about space - there is something I didn't realise until about 70% into the book. *SPOILERS - JUMP IF YOU WANT TO KNOW* 

The book is set in 1979, even though it gives the impression of now. Maybe I didn't notice some clues but this hit me straight, I didn't even realise. I found this extremely clever, and after reading the book until the end, it gives this impression of looking back from an older Miranda.

*IT'S SAFE NOW* This is not a long book, but at the right length. There is a series of plots happening that eventually all interlink, making this an interesting and adventurous type of novel. It is quite cute really.
   Overall, this book left a lasting impression on me and made me think about an alternate side to life and the possibilities the future can be technology wise. This book is a gem of a novel, one that you could easily walk past. Try it, even if you're not into simple language - you might be pleasantly surprised. 

I give it a 4 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 197
Publisher: Andersen Press
Challenges: Historical Fiction


  1. I enjoyed this books a lot. It won the Newbery Medal which is given to one outstanding children's book a year. I didn't figure out who was sending the letters and was surprised. Nice review!

  2. Oh it is quite confusing and weird but I just about worked it out. Basically, it's the old laughing man (SORRY SPOILERS) who is Marcus in the future who has worked out how to go back in a time machine so she gives them to the younger Marcus.

  3. `When You Reach Me' is nothing short of incredible. When you read it through once, you'll want to go back and read it again - hold the book up in a new light and appreciate the delicacy and interwoven complexity. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

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