Monday, March 8, 2010

When You Reach Me

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious."

So says Albert Einstein in his 1931 essay, "The World as I See It," and Miss Lemon finds she could not agree more.

Neither, it seems, could Rebecca Stead, who so aptly chose this quote as epigram for her 2010 Newberry-award winning novel, When You Reach Me.

Miss Lemon picked up the novel and could not -- absolutely could not -- put it down.

The story is told from the point of view of a twelve-year-old girl named Miranda, living with her single mother in New York City. And her mother has just been selected as a contestant to appear on Dick Clark's The $20,000 Pyramid (a game show, for those who don't know , that was once wildly popular in America).

The notification of her mother's good fortune arrived that day on a postcard, writes Miranda, "Just like you said." It's one of the first of many clues to a brilliant mystery about the ideas of relationships, causality, narrative, and time.

But who told Miranda that her mother would be picked to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid?

It becomes Miranda's task to parcel out the events of the past six months and order them in such a way that will lead her (and the reader of her letter... and the reader of this book) to discover exactly that.

Not a single scene, character, setting, or clue is wasted in When You Reach Me. Not Miranda's childhood obsession with Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time nor the fight she has with her best friend, Sal. She and her sixth-grade friends get a part-time job at Jimmy's sandwich shop, working only 40 minutes over their lunch break -- and that's important, too.

So are The $20,000 Pyramid practice sessions that she, her mom, and her mom's boyfriend, Richard, work up in their living room. After the Speed Round, which her mom seems to have mastered, there is the Winner's Circle, where a celebrity partner will give clues not for a word but for a whole category. For example, tulip, rose, or daisy would be "types of flowers; poetry and the Pledge of Allegiance would be "things you recite."

As it turns out, all of the chapter headings of When You Reach Me could be Winner's Circle categories and perhaps clues, too: "Things That Burn,"  "Things on a Slant," "Things You Hold on To."

Really, it's brilliant.

For those of her readers born in the late 1960s or early '70s, Miss Lemon promises that this novel will resonate. And for those who have ever read anything by Madeline L'Engle or gave more than a passing thought to the nature of time, she promises it will resonate even more.

When You Reach Me is a superbly drawn mystery and more than deserving of the Newberry Medal.


  1. Interesting review - thank you - I think i will take up Miss Lemon's recommendation!


  2. Very enticing review. I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid, and this should climb right up near the top of my must read list.

  3. Thanks kindly to you both. Miss Lemon promises you'll not be disappointed!

  4. I must read this! I had borrowed it from the library but it went back unread. I'll get it again. I loved your review. You might be interested in Jen Robinson's post about it: