It’s 1979, and Miranda received her last “proof” today: Her mom will be on The 20,000 Pyramid in April. Between practicing for the speed round and the Winner’s Circle with the egg timer, Miranda walks to her 6th grade class through her New York City neighborhood with her best friend, Sal. They know where to get donuts, what deli is best, and how to avoid the scary homeless man on the corner. But when Sal gets punched by the corner bully for no apparent reason, it sets off a string of events that turn Miranda’s world upside down. Sal refuses to see her, her hidden apartment key is stolen, and she receives a series of cryptic notes, from which she learns someone is coming, and a friend’s life is in danger.
I’d heard some buzz about When You Reach Me before it won the Newbery Medal this year and have had it on my TBR list since. Although I don’t read many books for junior readers, Miranda is a mature protagonist, and all her friends – adult and child alike – are so likable it’s hard not to connect with them. They all had their flaws, strengths, and insecurities, and you’re rooting for them. Hoping Miranda’s mom will find a job she likes, that her mom’s boyfriend Richard will get a house key, that Sal will talk to Miranda, that Annemarie and Julia will be friends again, that Jimmy will let them work at the deli, and that Marcus will learn to time travel someday. With the simplicity and beauty of the writing and the intriguing puzzle-centered plot, it turned out to be the perfect book to rescue me from my reading slump. I’m not sure how I missed that Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time features prominently in the book as Miranda’s constant companion. Reading that classic for the first time in grade school will always be one of my most memorable reading experiences. I can still see the first image I constructed of the garden and Meg and her father as I read. A part of me expected more shocking twists or self-aware profound thoughts, but Rebecca Steed’s metaphors are subtle and sparse. One of my favorite passages:
But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love.
I’ve thought a lot about these veils. I wonder if, every once in awhile, someone is born without one. Someone who sees the big stuff all the time. Like maybe you.
I devoured this book in a day. I was driven by a need to know which friend of Miranda’s was in danger, and if she’d make friends, and who the note-writer was, and how the Fred Flintstone bank, the lost key, Richard’s heeled shoe, and the crazy homeless man fit together. Overall a sweet, deeply meaningful coming-of-age story with a little bit of history, adventure, and layman science fiction, something I’d want my son to read when he grows up.