When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Genre: middle grade, fiction, fantasy
Summary: Just as Miranda's bestfriend Sal stops being friends with her, she is set on a journey by a mysterious note she finds in a library book. This is the story of Miranda's attempts to make new friends, navigate her life at home with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, and figure out where the mysterious notes are coming from, using A Wrinkle in Time as a guidepost.
Sensitivities: This novel does briefly touch on mental illness, and racism, and the main character gets kissed by a boy. None of these are handled in a way that would be an issue for students.
Classroom Library: Yes, although I don't know that students will gravitate toward it. It may be a book that you have to recommend.
Enjoyability: 4 of 5 stars
My favorite thing about this book is watching Miranda's interactions with the world around her change as she realizes the importance of thinking about those around her and what they might be thinking and feeling. She starts the novel with a very narrow view of the people in her life, but as she works to solve the mystery of the notes that keep appearing addressed to her, she begins to better understand the actions of other people and becomes a kinder person because of it. At one point in the novel, she says, "Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean. It's like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten. And the way you usually act, the things you would have normally done, are like these ghosts that everyone can see but pretends not to." Miranda makes the choice in that moment to become a different person.
The mystery of the notes also keeps the novel interesting, with constant connections and references to A Wrinkle in Time, as Miranda attempts to figure out who is writing to her and how they know so much information about her.
This book was a quick read for me, and the pay off of the solution to the mystery at the end was great enough that I originally rated this novel 5 stars, but the more distance I have from it, the more I am left not feeling much of anything. This book has strong merits and I completely understand why it received the honors that it did, but I can't see myself returning to it any time soon.
Teachability: I would love to use this book to practice citing evidence, since its a mystery and students could easily come up with their own theories of what was happening and then practice using evidence from the text to support their thinking. I could also see using this book in a unit focused on topics related to empathy, or in reading groups, paired up with A Wrinkle in Time. One thing to keep in mind when putting this book in the hands of students is that the timeline can be a bit confusing to follow because of the way the story intersects. Students may need to create a physical timeline or be provided with a physical timeline before reading.
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