Weekend Pick for November 11, 2022
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This novel features Miranda, a 12-year-old girl living in Manhattan in the late 1970s. A fan of A Wrinkle in Time, Miranda daydreams about this fantasy world while facing her real world filled with complicated friendships, quirky neighbors, and a crazy man on the corner. Miranda’s life is pretty normal until she witnesses her best friend, Sal, get punched by a strange boy; Sal then stops spending time with her. Soon afterward, the spare apartment key that her mom keeps hidden goes missing. Then, a mysterious note arrives. The writer tells Miranda I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own and you must write me a letter. Confused and frightened by this elusive message, she tries to ignore it; however, the notes keep appearing. They seem to predict the future, prompting Miranda to unravel this mystery.
As I was rereading this novel, I was again struck at Stead’s masterful ability to foreshadow subtly. It is not until the final few chapters when readers finally see how seemingly unrelated events are connected. It is almost as if the reader is inside Miranda’s mind as the meaning of the notes slowly dawns on her. Unlike other mysteries, though, this one does not wrap-up neatly. It leaves Miranda and the reader wondering - but in the best possible way.
Stead is also subtle in her character development. I love how she provides clues about the characters’ personalities. For example, Miranda’s mom refuses to buy grapes because of how the pickers are treated in California, yet she is also weirdly obsessed with The $20,000 Pyramid game show. Her mom’s boyfriend, Richard, is nicknamed “Mr. Perfect.” Every time she or Miranda calls him this, he pats his knee to remind them that his right leg is shorter than his left one. Even the minor characters are portrayed with care: the crazy, homeless man is endearingly called “laughing man” and the school secretary (who zooms through the office in her chair) is called “Wheelie.” Each character is endearing and Miranda’s life feels real.
I highly recommend When You Reach Me for anyone wishing to “tesser” into a fictional world of science fiction, mystery, and poignant storytelling - a world you won’t want to leave.