Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When You Reach Me

I just finished reading Rebecca Stead's thrilling YA novel, When You Reach Me. It's a bit of a genre-bender, starting out as a mystery and becoming more science fiction-y by the end of it, with plenty of the best kind of YA coming-of-age tenderness and poignancy all mashed up in there. I have kind of a pet peeve with really maudlin coming-of-age stories (I'm looking at you, Bridge to Terabithia) so I doubly appreciate a book that makes me cry while never stooping to manipulation. When You Reach Me walks that fine line ably, with such spare, unsentimental prose that the emotional effects of it cut that much more deeply. I kept having to stop whilst reading it on the subway and pretend to look up at something verrrry interesting and invisible on the ceiling.

With finely woven mystery elements, exquisite attention to detail, and some superb characterization, even in the minor characters (like Alice Evans, the shy-bladder girl at school), When You Reach Me doesn't drop a single stitch. Stead's obvious geek-girl fandom of Madeleine L'Engle is endearing, too, since it puts the reader in the place of sharing some collective memory -- what girl aged ten-to-twelve was not enraptured by L'Engle trilogy? -- and creates a kind of instant intimacy with Miranda, the protagonist. A vintage NYC setting only helped matters in my mind, as did the wonderful character of Miranda's mother, a frustrated, artsy type forced to toil humiliatingly in a law office. Next time I go to work I may wear purple and black striped stockings.

P.S. I found the image here.

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