When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me.  By Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 208 pages. $15.99

Plot: It’s the 1970’s and everything is going along fine in sixth grader, Miranda’s life.  He best friend since they were little, Sal, lives in her building and they explore New York City together, often walking by the homeless man on the corner who she calls “the laughing man.”  Her mom has a nice boyfriend, Richard, who Miranda likes.  And sixth grade is OK.  But, then, everything changes.  A boy neither of them knows punches Sal when he and Miranda are walking home from school one day.  And all of a sudden Sal doesn’t want to hang out with Miranda anymore.  Miranda’s mom is preparing to be a contestant on the game show $20,000 pyramid, with Miranda and others’ help.  Miranda finds herself in need of friends and companions.  She makes some new friends, including getting to know the boy who hit Sal; his name is Marcus.  And she starts receiving these mysterious notes.  She finds the first one in her library book.  She wonders how it got there.  Then more notes appear; who are they coming from?  Why doesn’t Sal want to be friends anymore? Will Miranda’s mother win $20,000 and make them rich?

Review: Author Rebecca Stead has accomplished an amazing feat with When You Reach Me.  The book is warm and personable.  Main character, Miranda, is likable and spirited.  Characters are three-dimensional and interesting.  And, through intricate details and careful story telling, Stead has created a book that defies any one (or two) genre category.  It is at once a mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and adventure novel.  And covering all those genres serves to strengthen the story and contributes to its ability to appeal to a wide audience, which it does and will.  The writing flows effortlessly, the hints and clues add intrigue, the characters are rich and multi-faceted and the plot is fun.  This would be a great book for a book group and for re-reading, as analyzing the story during a second read would be an interesting and enlightening activity.

Genre(s): Adventure, Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Selected Awards: 2010 Newberry Medal, 2010 ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2010 ALA Best Books for Young Adults Top 10, 2009 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0-385-73742-5

Similar Books: Criss Cross, The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Subjects: friendship, identity, time travel



The Giver

The Giver.  By Lois Lowry. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 180 pages. $17

Plot: Jonas’ world is seemingly perfect.  There’s no hunger, prejudice, or poverty.  Everybody knows what is and is not allowed, what s/he is responsible for, and what happens when the rules are not obeyed.  Even politeness is codified.  In a society carefully constructed and maintained, twelve-year-old Jonas, dutiful and obedient, is assigned to be the community’s “Receiver of Memories.”  All the so-called “twelves” are given their career assignments in a celebratory ceremony.  Jonas’ position is considered the most honored in the community, and he is to replace an old man who will train him for the job.  As Jonas starts receiving memories he begins to have thoughts he has never had before.  He starts to question his outwardly ideal society and finds out there is more below the surface than he has seen or even considered before.  Is his world utopian?  Dystopian?

Review: Fascinating and frightening, Jonas’ world is cause for thoughtful reflection.  Lowry’s novel raises questions about what it means to be a society and what qualities make a society function.  The story is engaging and interesting.  Lowry’s writing is riveting and though-provoking, allowing the reader to question Jonas’ world along with him.  The Giver contains some events whose plausibility is questionable, but, even so, would make a great choice for a book club or class discussion.

Genre(s): Fantasy, Science Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Selected Awards: 1994 Newberry Medal, 1996 William Allen White Children’s Book Award, ALA “Best Book for Young Adults, ALA Notable Children’s Book, ALA Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Book, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0-395-64566-6

Subjects: utopia, careers, society, memories, knowledge, freedom, choice

Main Characters

Jonas: eleven to twelve-year-old main character who is given the honorable career of the community’s “Receiver of Memories,” obedient follower of his society’s many rules until he starts to question some of the community’s accepted methods of doing things

Lily: Jonas’ seven to eight-year-old sister

Jonas’ father: works as a “Nurturer,” a caretaker of new children, is particularly concerned with the development of a “one” named Gabriel, helps Jonas follow society’s rules

Jonas’ mother: works as a Judge, helps Jonas follow society’s rules

Gabriel: a baby in the care of Jonas’ father who eventually comes to live with Jonas’ family, in the hopes that his growth and development, which are slower than expected, will improve

Asher: Jonas’ best friend who isn’t always successful at following the rules and who enjoys fun

Fiona: friend of Jonas and the object of Jonas’ newly recognized “stirrings” of attraction

The Giver: the elderly man currently holding the position to which Jonas has been assigned, holds the societies’ memories, so individuals of the community do not have to experience them.