I used to teach a Newbery Medal winner reading unit to sixth graders. It was one of my favorites, but the students rarely shared in my enthusiasm. In fact they hated the unit. It seems books that adults choose as the best were not what the students adored. One brave twelve year old proclaimed. “These books just aren’t popular,” which is true since popularity is not a criteria for the Newbery.
WHEN YOU REACH ME, by Rebecca Stead, may be just the one I needed to change the students’ perceptions. It has lively characters, a superb plot, and the ending is truly moving. That’s the result one gets with the excellent writing throughout. I’d love to get back in the classroom to hear my skeptical students say, “Wow, awesome.”
PUBLICATION DATE:2009 LEVEL: 4.5 WORD COUNT: 39,253
FULL PLOT (From Amazon): This remarkable novel holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart.
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.
But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT WHEN YOU REACH ME:
- I immediately made a connection with Miranda’s perfectly flowing first-person narration. You’re side by side with her as all components converge at the end that explain the strange things Miranda has been witnessing.
- Most books end and you either put it back on the shelf or pass it along to another reader. This book will have you going back to the beginning to see how it was so expertly woven together.
- The emotional arc the character takes will have you trying to finish the book in one sitting. It’s funny, sad, and sometimes those two emotions occur in the same paragraph.
- The novel captured my attention where my recent adult reads have not even come close. It was rather sad to see it come to an end.
- The realistic portrayal of 1979, including the use of The $20,000 Pyramid as an integral part of the plot. Ages 10 through adult will enjoy the unfolding of this soon to be classic story.
If I ever do decide to write your letter, which I probably won’t, this is the story I would tell you.
Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.
Love this book! And as a former bookseller (for ten years), I hear you about the popularity of Newbery winners. Parents bought them. Kids hated them. But you’re right that this is one of those rare Newbery winners kids love. And I agree with your five points, but especially the second one: I totally had to start reading this book all over again as soon as I finished. Such impressive plotting.
I like your style of reviewing, Greg. I’m adding you to my MMGM blogroll.
I’ve read LIAR AND SPY but not WHEN YOU REACH ME. (I know, I know–a shameful admission.) Having seen Rebecca Stead a couple of years ago at Wordstock, and having read so many great review, I know this is going to be great one. Now–if someone could loan me a couple more hours out of their day for reading…
Thanks Michael … Sorry I can’t loan you any hours. I’m out of them myself.
Loved this book! Loved loved loved it! I just wish I could get more kids reading it. So very well done.
I love when books are expertly woven together and this one sounds so fabulous! I actually have it, but haven’t read it yet. I must move it up my list. I think it is great that is stands out to you as a book MG readers would really like. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
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