[When You Reach Me]: A Review

Hello dear bookish friends!

I did not intend to take a two week hiatus from blogging then I realized that I had. Sorry to be MIA for these past few weeks. We traveled for Thanksgiving and then it’s been a crazy few days. I am excited to finally get back into a consistent schedule and blog more.

Today I am so excited to share my review of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I was lucky to buddy read this with my good friend, Jackie over at Death by Tsundoku. We are both doing Newbery Challenges working to finish all the Newbery Winners in the next few years. Jackie is inspiring me to get going on my Newbery winners. We could not have picked a better Newbery winner to buddy read. This book is fantastic, thought provoking, and so clever.

We decided to write our reviews a bit differently since we buddy read the book. We each came up with 5 questions about the book. And we’re going to answer all 10 questions in our buddy reviews. Enjoy!

We both reference quite a few spoilers from the plot of the book because we decided our questions would be more intriguing if we included any aspect of the novel. If you haven’t read the book, stop now and read the book first! Having no spoilers before reading will make the experience so much more fascinating!

First, a quick summary of the book from Goodreads: “Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she starts receiving mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. 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.

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Check out Jackie’s review on her blog here.
1. Early on, Miranda begins to discuss her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. Did you make any predictions on what might happen to Miranda or the events which might occur in this story based on this information? How did the continued allusions to this story throughout the book influence your expectations?

First of all, I love that A Wrinkle in Time is so central to the plot of this novel. Stead really connects the two in such interesting ways. I think I expected there to be time travel at some point in the book, and I thought Miranda would be the one to time travel. I like how the allusions lead us to the climax of this novel without giving away all the details until the last moment. We learn Marcus’ theories on time travel long before we piece together who he becomes in the future.

2. What genre would you describe When You Reach Me as? Why?

Okay, I love this question because it’s so hard to answer. Ha! I expected this book to be realistic middle grade fiction–but it’s so much more. This is part science fiction (like the science in A Wrinkle in Time, but no aliens or traveling to other planets), part mystery novel (it really is pretty intense at parts when we can’t figure out where the notes are coming from), and part middle grade fiction (the story still centers around an average 6th grader who lives in New York City, but Stead makes it feel like a small town which is impressive).

3. We get to know Marcus slowly over the course of the book. How did your perception of him change as you continued reading?
I think Marcus is one of the most interesting characters that I’ve read in Newbery winners, let alone just this book. At first, I was annoyed with him and didn’t like him. Why did he randomly punch Sal? Then he has this awesome and super nerdy conversation about time travel with Miranda? How can this be the same kid? Then the details start to connect, and we learn how he is connected to the mysterious laughing man who I knew was going to be important! Marcus helped me see that perception is limited. I judged him harshly when we are first introduced to him. Then as I learned more about him, I appreciated him more and more. I was rooting for him by the end.
4. What do you believe the key themes are of When You Reach Me? Why are these themes important?
There are so many great lessons to be learned from this novel. A few of my favorite themes that I saw: the importance of friendship, the flaws of communication, the limits of understanding others without seeing their whole lives, the importance of being honest with yourself, the limits of our human understanding of time and of reality. There is so much that we could talk about with this book’s themes. I think they are important because they show readers how to change and be better people. We can’t control how others act, but we can change our own actions. We can communicate better with those we love. We can take chances and change the world. And we can each have the veil of understanding lifted for a moment to receive ultimate clarity.
5. It is obvious that Stead loves A Wrinkle in Time, the 1963 Newbery Medal winner. What does it say to you that When You Reach Me won the Newbery 47 years later? In an interview with The Guardian, Stead discusses that “you can’t just toss A Wrinkle in Time in there casually.” Do you agree or disagree with this thought? Why?
Again, I love all the connections to A Wrinkle in Time in When You Reach Me. I think the fact that When You Reach Me won the Newbery shows that books that tackle complex ideas about time and reality are still important and still deserved to be read. And I definitely agree with Stead. A Wrinkle in Time is such a fascinating work of fiction with so many layers of meaning, you have to be intentional when you reference it. It has a compelling plot that can be interpreted in many ways. I was impressed how Stead used that novel as a springboard for her own plot that is complex and fascinating in its own right. Well done, Rebecca Stead!

6. Is there any book that is your book the way A Wrinkle in Time is Miranda’s book — that you read and reread either as a child or an adult?

I would say the Harry Potter books because I feel like I grew up with the characters. I was so invested in their lives and had to wait for the continuing story. It’s so great to read the whole series back to back now too 😉 I would also say The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak. That is the book I recommend the most because I think it is so powerful. Zusak writes from the point of view of Death with poise and sophistication. It’s absolutely fascinating. Plus I love the way he celebrates the power of words. 

7. What is the significance of the chapter titles? How do those titles fit into the plot?

It took me some time to catch on to the significance of how they were worded. Many are connected to Miranda’s mom and her quest to win the 20,000 Pyramid. Often they are categories of things or characteristics of objects. I like that they give us clues about how each chapter will lead us towards the climax of the novel. They made me pay closer attention to details as I tried to piece together how everything was connected. 

8. Can you explain—or even understand—Marcus’s comment that time “isn’t a line stretching out in front of us, going in one direction. It’s—well, time is just a construct, actually.” What does he mean by “construct”? How does that work?

I love how complicated and nerdy Marcus and Miranda get when discussing time travel in A Wrinkle in Time. It just reminds me of something I would do with fellow book nerds and I love that. Honestly, I had to reread some of their discussion to try and sort out what they were saying. As far as Marcus’ quote here goes, I think he means that the present is a construct. We construct time now based on our past experiences, our future aspirations, and the relationships we have with those around us. We change and feel and interact with others. So we can’t travel linearly through time because we are not isolated in time. Additionally, I think Marcus is already interested in practical time travel at this point in the novel which adds an additional dimension to this idea of constructing time. If we can go back and change the trajectory of a particular point in time, then time must be malleable and changeable. And with or without actual time travel, how we view time certainly can be changed. 

I’m quite proud of how I was able to explain myself here. I feel like I could talk with Marcus and have an intelligent conversation about time. 

9. Friendship a major theme in this novel. How did Miranda’s friendships change over the course of the novel?

It was fascinating to look back and see how Miranda’s perceptions of others limited her friendships. At first, I didn’t understand how her perceptions could be wrong. I was convinced that everyone else was in the wrong. I didn’t realize until later that I was seeing everyone–Sal, Julia, Annemarie, and more–through Miranda’s eyes. So I judged them how she did. As Miranda realized that she had been isolating herself from others and misjudging them, I realized the same thing. I liked that Miranda changed how she interacted with others and built more friendships. Strong friendships are important at any stage of life, and I was glad to see her let go of her misconceptions about her classmates and befriend many of them instead.

10. What is the significance of Miranda’s mom preparing to go on The 20,000 Pyramid? How it it connected to Miranda’s experience of understanding who sent the notes she keeps finding?

This is such a fun, unique element in the novel. I remember watching reruns of this show when I was sick as a kid. I didn’t remember all the details of how to win. Miranda’s mom works very hard before she actually competes on the game show. She studies and practices the different parts of the competition endlessly in the weeks leading up to it. At times, she is discouraged because she isn’t as fast as she would like to be. And there is still the elements of chance because she will be paired with a celebrity player whom she must work together with to win the cash prize. The ending scene when she finally competes is a beautiful climax to the novel–so neat!

Miranda goes through a similar process of learning and practicing. At first, she is scared by the notes and tried to ignore them. Then she starts piecing together how they are connected to the events in her life. That’s like when her mom figures out the first round of the show. Then Miranda must let others into her life to help her understand who sent the notes and what she needs to do in return. She cannot prevent death on her own. She needs several other people and the way they all play a role in saving a life is fascinating. Like her mom, she had to rely on other people. And in a moment of clarity, she understands everything like the moment her mom wins it all. 

This was such a fascinating read and I am so glad I got to experience it with Jackie! Read this Newbery winner soon. It deserves a spot on your TBR!

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Have you read this one yet? 
What are some of your favorite Newbery Winners?

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This is the 19th Newbery Medal winner I have read as part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2020, the year the 100th winner is announced.

3 thoughts on “[When You Reach Me]: A Review

  1. Pingback: November Wrap-Up and December TBR – greenish bookshelf

  2. I actually just read this one this year as well! And I loved it. This is and the Westing Game are probably two of my favorite Newberry Medals winners.

    My favorite part of this story was what you touched on with Miranda’s perspective of the people around her. Sometimes in stories I feel like my perspective of the characters isn’t connected to the main character’s, even if it’s from a first-person point of view. But like you said, in this our perception of the characters (including Miranda herself) changes along with the story. I also loved all the little details Stead but into this one. Little things like the repeating tile on bathroom floors for instance brought me back to similar memories I had as a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awesome you read this one this year too! I remember reading The Westing Game in middle school and enjoying it–can’t wait to reread it!

      That’s a great point about perceptions. I think it’s impressive that our perceptions are so closely tied to Miranda’s. That makes this book stand out from other Newberys I have read.

      She really takes us back to what it’s like to be in the 6th grade, right? And makes it feel just like I remember it. Glad you enjoyed this one too!

      Liked by 1 person

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