When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This is another of those books that Melissa Wiley recommended. I am so, so glad I leapt to put it on hold at our library. I started it Thursday night at bedtime and read a few chapters. I finished it Friday afternoon during the kids’ naps. When I finished it I simultaneously wanted to go tell everyone about how cool it was and flip back to the beginning to re-read it. And I never re-read. Not right away. I usually need a year at least between readings of a book.

I didn’t start re-reading because it was time to make dinner. But I was floating for the next hour or so on a sort of novel-induced high. Most of the time when I finish a good book, I get down because I’m sad it ended, wishing there had been more. This one didn’t have that effect. Instead it left me feeling completely satisfied the way you do after a perfect meal. The ending was spot-on.

First, this was a beautiful homage to Madeleine L’Engle. Miranda, the protagonist, is in love with A Wrinkle in Time and has read her battered copy over and over again and the novel plays a key role in the unfolding of the plot.

Strangely, When You Reach Me reminds me of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. Except, ironically because this is a children’s book, this feels to me like a more mature handling of the themes of friendship and interconnectedness. It also reminds me very loosely of what I liked about The Time Traveler’s Wife. Except without the bits of that novel that I found problematic.

I wish I could go on in detail but, like Lissa, I’m afraid that to gush too much will be to give away what you should discover for yourself.

I will say that I thought the narrator’s voice was spot-on. She is the perfect unreliable narrator. Not because she is deceitful in any way but the way she tells the story, the way the events unfold for the reader, is the result of her inability to grasp the problems of paradox. The narrative is rather messy but in a perfectly beautiful way. The mess is not the result of sloppy writing rather, Miranda is untidy in her thinking. Stead is always perfectly in control of the narrative. (Rather unlike my review but I simply do not have the time to craft a response worthy of the book.)

Go read Lissa’s review or, even better, go get the book and read it for yourself.

 

4 Responses to When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

  1. Katherine October 29, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    Cecilia has recently begun asking to dress up as things. I’ve thought about buying some cheap costumes on sale after Halloween for her to play make believe and dress up with.

    Personally, I love the idea of dressing up and playing make believe. I think it could be a wonderful social opportunity to use the imagination and creativity, as a Saint or a pumpkin. But part of my problem with Halloween is that some people take it so far as putting up fake dead bodies in front of their houses or bleeding masks and other such things I don’t want the girls to see. I’ve seen houses with devils that pop up from behind porch banisters, etc. and it has become such a commercial holiday that some people really do go all out with their decorations and not all of those decorations are fit for small children. I don’t know a way around that with regards to traditional trick or treating.

  2. amy2boys October 30, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    I’ve always felt that Halloween, like Christmas, has been secularized and commericalized to such a degree that it was effectively divorced from religious implications now (for me anyway).  I never worried about my kids dressing up – they didn’t even remotely connect it to anything to do with faith.

    I like the idea of remembering it’s roots in the context of All Saint and All Souls.  Thanks for the link – I’ll go check it out.

  3. Melanie Bettinelli October 30, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    Katherine, I have to say I honestly don’t know what I think about all of this. We haven’t gone trick-or-treating with the girls yet so I haven’t had to tackle the scary decorations yet.

    Personally, I think the tact I’m likely to take with the girls is to explain that they’re just pretend and we should laugh at them rather than be scared. Often children follow our lead and if we don’t act afraid they won’t either.

    That’s not to say if they are afraid that I will ignore their fears or treat them as negligible; but that I will try to help them work through the fear. Maybe saying a prayer to St Michael and their guardian angels and explaining that Mommy and Daddy won’t let anything hurt them. And then of course if they’re really freaked we’ll avoid that sort of thing in the future.

    I understand that some children are more sensitive than others. (For example, Bella gets freaked out by the vacuum, Ben falls asleep to it.) Also some adults are more sensitive than others. I don’t get freaked out by Halloween spookies but I know my sister-in-law really does. All I can say is: you know your kids. If they get scared, don’t go. If they are fine, well, then there’s no harm.

    I’m not sure what decorations are fit or unfit for small children; that seems such a personal judgment call. Some kids love clowns, Mickey Mouse, Barney, etc…. others are really freaked out when confronted with men in stuffed costumes. Me, I get much more upset by s-xual stuff and am not really disturbed by the macabre. I went to the bone church in Rome, I’ve seen plenty of Catholic art in the memento mori vein with bones etc. (Actually, I have a print of a Georges de la Tour Mary Magdalene contemplating a skull hanging in our living room.) And then there’s the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead and that strikes me as weird and yet somehow oddly attractive too but then it’s not my custom and i’m not sure I quite get it.

    I sort of understand people who get a thrill at haunted houses and who enjoy sitting on their porch dressed as a witch or digging a “grave” in their yard. It’s not my thing but I get where they’re coming from and I don’t necessarily think they should stop just because 2, 3, and 4 year-olds might get scared. It seems to me that’s more the parent’s judgment call about where to go and what their kids can handle than it is the responsibility of the householder giving out treats.

     

  4. Melanie Bettinelli October 30, 2009 at 9:27 am #

    amy,

    I think it is divorced from religion for most people—I’m not at all clear how much it ever was a part of religion, history is a bit murky there—and I don’t see anything wrong with keeping them separate. Though I’m rather attracted to Sally’s way of blending the sacred and secular, I don’t think you have to see it that way either.

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