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Book Review – When You Reach Me

February 22, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My personal reading time is preciously rare these days, as I’m usually trying to keep up with coursework reading, assignments, fieldwork, substitute teaching, and three kids & a husband. Suffice it to say that except for a week at the beach after bootcamp and the winter break between semesters, I have read nothing but textbooks and other assorted scholarly readings since May of 2009. Because I’m really happiest when I have some type of pleasurable reading to look forward to at the end of the day, I came up with the solution to read children and young adult books. This is a good fit for me right now, since they are usually (although not always!) a faster read for me than adult fiction, and I can justify the time spent reading as academically related.

Having coming up with this idea, I pledged to start my reading with this year’s award winning books. I requested the 2010 Newbery Medal Winner the day it was announced, and patiently waited about four weeks to get it. When I sat down to read it, I pretty much consumed it in an evening. The book kept me on edge throughout every page, although it is not what you would call a thriller. I was compelled to read it quickly to find out the answers to several puzzles in the story, although it is not your typical mystery. The characters are mostly likeable, although I was left wanting to get to know more of some of them.

No matter what I think though, the true test of a children/young adult book is whether or not it is read and appreciated by its target audience. Having seen this hotly debated on the school library listserve LM_NET, I put this book to the test: I had my 12 year old son read it. And read it he did – he finished it almost as quickly as I did (and he probably would’ve finished it even faster if only his late-night reading wasn’t thwarted at 9:30 on school nights). We discussed the book after he finished, and he really enjoyed it as much as I did. He liked the mysterious aspect of it, he was not put off by the protagonist being a girl, and he didn’t mind the suspension of disbelief that the book calls upon.

The best things about this book (IMHO) are:

  1. I think the discussions that my son and I had after he finished the book contributed to both of us liking it even more. It really showed how the social side of reading can impact a reader’s enjoyment of it. It also speaks to the writing – when a mother and son who can agree on so little (it’s time to go to bed; no, you don’t need a cell phone; I don’t want to take out the garbage, etc, etc.) can agree on how much they like a book, and lots of the elements in it, it’s got to be a special book.
  2. Stead alludes to another Newbery Medal Winner several times throughout the book, although at first not by name. We find out at the end of the book that the author is reverently referring to A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. How I made it this far without reading that book is truly a mystery to me, but I do not remember reading it. This has inspired the next book up on my reading list. Even better, my son will be reading it as well, in part because his monthly book report theme for March is fantasy. What will be even best is if When You Reach Me can similarly motivate other children and teens to do the same thing. Reading begetting reading – that’s a very cool thing for children & YA literature!

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