Sunday, June 21, 2009

Newbery Watch: When You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is possibly the most buzzed-about book so far this year other than Catching Fire. It's so buzzed-about, and so honestly good, that it seems sure-fire for the Newbery--but I wonder, do the books with the most buzz ever really win? I haven't been following this long enough to know. Have there been years when everybody was pretty sure something would win the Newbery, and then it did?

When You Reach Me is the story of Miranda, a sixth-grader, who has enough to do sorting out her own life (remember the sixth grade, with its mysteriously shifting friendships and alliances?) without adding a mystery. But life becomes even more complicated when she begins receiving desperate notes from the future.

(Many thanks to Monica Edinger's class for sending me an extra ARC. The book comes out July 14.)

I've read so many good reviews of When You Reach Me that it feels redundant to write one of my own; they've got it covered. But I'll try, anyway.

Many have compared this to my favorite Newbery, The Westing Game, but it reminded me much more of a dearly-loved, semi-obscure Lois Lowry novel: The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline. And not just because they both take place in New York City around the same time, and feature single mothers and lower-middle-class girls with rich friends, and both are mysteries. As in Caroline, When You Reach Me is populated with both children and adults who are real people. Characters make mistakes and you cringe, but know that you, yourself, would probably have done the same thing in that situation. It makes the book astonishingly real, so that it seems like it really happened, thirty years ago when the world was different.

I'm guessing there's probably been discussion about how the book is set in the late seventies, making it historical fiction. Bloggers and reviewers often say that books shouldn't be set in the past unless there's a real reason for it, and I wonder if some find this book to lack a reason. I've never been so picky about that, but I did feel subtly absorbed into a different era. It felt right to me. I will be interested to hear what others have to say, about this aspect and any other--ARE there any negative reviews of this book out there? Point me to them; they'll help me clarify why this book is so good.


LaurieA-B said...

Once I saw you referred to The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline, I am trying not to read the rest of this post until after I've read the book. You know how I love Caroline!

Jess said...

Gosh, it's been a long time since I read Caroline. I've only heard good things about When You Reach Me, too.