When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: Review

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m unable to collect my thoughts coherently enough to express how pleasantly surprised and awed I was by this book. It was so engaging and I literally couldn’t stop reading near the end. It wasn’t super explosive because it’s one of those books that accounts a series of everyday life events. It’s amazingly grounded in reality despite the science fiction element and I loved how invested I was into each character.

Miranda is a stubborn girl and it showed so much through her persistence in rereading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (another great book) and rejecting other books. By now, that should clue you in on what sci-fi genre is incorporated throughout the book. Time travel. I loved that the author didn’t just throw the reader into time travel without explaining some theories surrounding it. Some elementary readers might be perplexed by the ideas because they’re, like Miranda, so immersed in common sense. I always love a good time travel story (ex. All Our Yesterdays, The Time Machine, Hourglass, Harry Potter #3 and I’m about to read Ruby Red) so I’m immensely pleased when the logistics of it and especially the side effects of tessering is talked about. The abstract thoughts of time, relativity, and it being a circle rather than a straight line is hard to digest but I’m glad the author put it in. She does so by generating these discussions between friends and it’s wonderful to see middle schoolers interested in science and architecture. These get the readers to understand that time travel is a possibility and therefore not just used as a simple plot device to drive the story to a convenient ending.

Miranda is very intelligent and perceptive for her age but she’s also has similar worries as any other middle schooler. Her inner thoughts are matter-of-fact and realistic so it’s great for a change when she starts to slowly piece together the clues and figure out and analyze situations.

She shook her head slowly. “I don’t know. I just feel stuck, like I’m afraid to take any steps, in case they’re the wrong ones. I need a little more time to think.” She stood up. “The water’s probably boiling by now. Spaghetti in ten minutes.”
Spaghetti again. We were kind of stuck, I realized. In a lot of ways.

As an advanced reader, I saw several of the plot twists coming but none of it was ruined because I relished how the plot unraveled so naturally. The dialogue between the characters are very casual and easygoing and I loved the themes. There was a lot of conflict in making friendships and doing what is right. The decisions each person made was extremely consequential and unfolded in surprising ways. I always thought of middle school as a tumultuous but necessary self-transformation and priorities change then because kids tend to value certain things over others. A common one is popularity over academics. Sensitive subjects like socioeconomic status and how it affects lives also pervade the story and affect people’s relationships. Certain actions are driven by the need for money, others out of loneliness, some do things out of curiosity, and it ultimately creates a ripple effect. I believe one of the biggest motifs in this book is passivity. People often stand by while the scene unfolds in front of their faces but choose not to intervene. Reasons behind the ‘bystander effect’ are complex and often different for each person but one of the ones that stands out the most is “no obligation”.

“Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean.It’s like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten. And the way you usually act, the things you would have normally done, are like these ghosts that everyone can see but pretends not to.”

Books for middle-age readers are often dumbed down or rather broken down into simpler words and that seriously turns me off. I sometimes love being able to breeze through text easily but I dislike juvenile writing that has so much potential to be better. That’s how I felt when I used to read books such as the Animal Ark series by Ben M. Baglio in which it was strictly plot-driven because the writing was nothing special.

Mr. Tompkin had left a book on my desk. He as always trying to get me to read something new. This one had a picture of a spunky-looking girl on the cover, and some buildings behind her. “

I especially remembered this quote although there’s nothing particularly special about it. However, it rings true in today’s pop culture because it’s so difficult to get people to read books due to the generic cover. The phrase ‘spunky-looking girl on the cover, and some buildings behind her” generates multiple YA books in mind. I would have a nearly impossible time trying to find out the name of the book Mr. Tompkin recommended her. The over-saturation of cliche book covers and of beautiful white girls photoshopped in front of buildings is in actuality a turnoff and does not give off a sense of originality and creativity.

As you can see, When You Reach Me’s cover does not feature a girl but instead, objects inlaid on the map. It looks whimsical and childish but each stroke is deliberate and significant. Yes, there could be a better book cover that can appeal to more readers but the one now pertains to the story and enhances the story. When You Reach Me is a book for all (ages 9 and up?) and for those who believe themselves too old, who are you kidding when you’ve read YA, Dr. Seuss, or picture books?

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6 thoughts on “When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: Review

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