Monday, March 15, 2010

When You Reach Me

Stead, Rebecca. 2009. WHEN YOU REACH ME. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780385737425 [Suggested Grade Levels 5- 8]

Stead has written possibly the best mystery of the year and just as possible, the best science fiction title of the year. This first person narrative, set in1978, is structured as a long letter from twelve-year-old Mira to some unnamed person. She has received several inexplicable notes from someone who has asked that she write a letter about when it all started. Understandably confused, Mira sets forth all that has happened so far that fall so that she can do what is asked: “I finally believed that whoever wrote me those notes actually knew about things before they happened. Somehow.” Stead expertly doles out the clues to keep us mesmerized.

Mira is a latch key kid whose mother works as a paralegal and is practicing to appear on a game show, “The $20,000 Pyramid.” Chapter titles are often categories that reflect the game show objectives such as, “Things That Fall Apart.” Mira’s relationships with her friends and mother are honestly portrayed and flesh out the action in this very realistic world. She comes to realize that: “Common sense is just a name for the way we’re used to thinking.”Stead ties up the story threads using her uncanny powers of characterization, plot, and pacing which come together in this astonishing novel: “You won’t be yourself when you reach me but you will get the job done.” So true.

Invite children to make up sets of seven simple words for the speed round and categories for the Winner’s Circle to play their own version of $20,000 Pyramid.

Books that feature time travel:
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. 2008, FOUND. ISBN 9781416954170
Teague, Mark. 2009. DOOM MACHINE. ISBN 9780545151429

By Cay Geisler

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