Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 199 pages. Hardcover $11.29 ISBN 978-0385737425
This book is a total brain-bender! We follow Miranda in her letters to an unknown “you” in the school year spanning 1978-1979. Miranda tells the story of the day her friend Sal told her he wanted to take a break being friends. Devastated, Miranda does her best to live with that decision, even though it means walking past the scary Laughing Man, a homeless person who has a tendency to kick into traffic, scream at the sky, and call out specific passersby. Despite her fear of the laughing man, Miranda manages to have a pretty good go of things. She often thinks about her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, with Marcus, a mysterious kid who punched Sal “just to see what would happen.” While Marcus is convinced time travel is real, Mira isn’t so sure. She is also receiving mysterious letters, and these letters freak her out pretty badly.
This was not the mystery I was expecting, but it was still a great read. The concurrent preparation for her mother’s shot on The $20,000 Pyramid injects urgency into the novel, as does the unexpected appearances of each letter. The laughing man swoops between lucidity and madness, and it leaves Miranda and readers with a lot of questions. The repeated references to A Wrinkle in Time could make this a great next read for kids who loved L’Engle’s story and would like to have someone (albeit a fictional someone) to “talk to” about the book and its time travel capabilities. It would be fun to play Catchphrase during book club to show kids how hard it can be to think on your feet like Miranda’s mother would have to do, and conversations about friendship, growing up, and empathy could be really fruitful. Furthermore, I really appreciated the portrayals of characters with differences (Richard’s need for a platform shoe on his right side, Annemarie’s epilepsy) respectfully and without making them seem as though they had been inserted to increase the “diversity” of the novel.