Thursday, April 29, 2010
Today I read Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, the recent Newberry Medal winner. It's a book that never once loses its footing in terms of tone—our narrator, Miranda, sounds precisely like the circa-1970s New York City sixth grader that she is. Steadfast, observant, funny, open-hearted, Miranda loves her single mother and her mother's almost-perfect boyfriend, Richard. She makes do with her less-than-perfect apartment in a less-than-perfect part of the city. She had a best friend named Sal, but he's been eluding her. She's opened herself to new friendships and, perhaps because she's such a devoted fan of Madeleine L'Engle stories, to the alluring idea of time travel.
When You Reach Me crosses boundaries in inspired, endearing fashion. It's a time travel mystery, or perhaps a character study, or a mother-daughter story, or a first-love story, or a best friendship story. It's a story in which Miranda is both entirely real and utterly compassionate—she has qualities that we hope for in all our children. And the grown-ups in this story are utterly lovable, too—not just Miranda's Mom and Richard, but a traveling dentist, and a school sergeant, and the guy who runs the deli. There are good people, in other words, all throughout this book, and they're mixed up with something surreally strange. Through it all, Stead does an outstanding job of making her characters feel real and near to us. We want them to join us for dinner.