It's the kind of book where various bits and pieces manage to seem symbolic even as they do a perfectly good job of carrying the story along. How can a story full of such ordinary details seem so intense and cosmic? Perhaps the greatest trick the author pulls off is to put in vats of significance without adding even one viscous drop of that goop, pomposity.
When You Reach Me is a book that weaves in another book, A Wrinkle in Time, for more than one reason.
It's a book that talks about friendship in a way few books have. Among them is Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, another book which is alluded to once here, albeit obliquely.
And even though When You Reach Me is a book about kids and friendship, I spent the whole thing in a near-breathless state of suspense. Because something bad is obviously going to happen—probably. So this book is also a mystery. Maybe it will win an Edgar award, too.
When You Reach Me reminds me a little of Markus Zusak's book for teens, I Am the Messenger, except that the ending of this one works better.
Is When You Reach Me science fiction? Fantasy? Magical realism? A coming of age story? Not so coincidentally, the same questions have been asked about A Wrinkle in Time. I was reshelving my own library by genre the other day and stood there for five minutes with L'Engle's book in my hand, trying to decide where it should go. I never really came up with a satisfactory answer. (Louis Sachar's Holes is a little like that, as well.)
There's something poetic about this book. Listen to sixth grader Miranda's voice, clear as the air on a mountaintop:
When we were too little for school, Sal and I went to day care together at a lady's apartment down the block. She had picked up some carpet samples at a store on Amsterdam Avenue and written the kids' names on the backs. After lunch, she'd pass out these carpet squares and we'd pick our spots on the living room floor for nap time. Sal and I always lined ours up to make a rectangle.So please, follow Miranda around and try to figure out why her best friend, Sal, is avoiding her. Check out the two-dollar bills, the V-cut, Alice's bathroom dance, and Julia's silver bracelet. Wonder for yourself why the homeless guy on the corner sleeps with his face under the mailbox, also whether Miranda's mom will win when she goes on Dick Clark's game show, The $20,000 Pyramid. It's 1978, sort of. And everything matters more than you think.
One time, when Sal had a fever and Louisa had called in sick to her job and kept him home, the day-care lady handed me my carpet square at nap time, and then, a second later, she gave me Sal's, too.
"I know how it is, baby," she said.
And then I lay on her floor not sleeping because Sal wasn't there to press his foot against mine.
Note: Although When You Reach Me is listed on Amazon in one spot as being a YA book, it's listed elsewhere as being for ages 9-12. The publisher, Wendy Lamb (Random House), lists the book as suitable for readers ages 9-14. So I'll stick with my Newbery prediction rather than the Printz!