Thursday, June 3, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This tale of time travel recently won the Newbery Award and came recommended via the blog of American author and homeschooler, Melissa Wiley. Bought it, read it aloud to the girls, caught them 'reading ahead' almost daily - a practice officially banned in our house but indulged in frequently and normally a sign of A Good Read.

Set in 70's urban America, it's a clever puzzle of a book that had me reading ahead as well and staying awake at night trying to get the intricate plotting straight in my head. I'd love to know how Rebecca Stead kept track of it herself. ( I have a vision of her walking round and round a very long table, moving draft pages from one end to the other, playing a game of paper-chess with herself.)

The heroine, Miranda, carries around a well-read copy of 'A Wrinkle in Time'. She's dealing with normal pre-teen troubles - life with her single mother, snooty girls at school, the fall-out of a friendship gone suddenly wrong - but when she finds the first in a series of mysterious notes, life becomes more intriguing, more complex, more frightening.

For all its fancy plot and referencing of 'A Wrinkle in Time', underneath it's still a rite of passage novel, with Miranda learning to navigate her city, her time, her emotions and her expectations. Stead handles the plot with dexterity; she writes believably about unbelievable things.

Yet something didn't quite grab me. I didn't warm to Miranda ( not in the way I've loving the main character in our current read-aloud, 'The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate' by Jacqueline Kelly, a Newbery runner-up ) and I'm putting that down to a slight drabness in the time and setting that leaches into the characters, though not into the plot. The girls may feel differently. Let's just say that given my own time travel machine, I wouldn't be going back to the 70's.

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