Just about every kid in my sixth grade class read When You Reach Me. I listened to my peers rave about it for months, but for some reason, this simple (but profound) book never reached my fingers until this weekend. At only about 200 pages, it’s the kind of book that you can (and will, I assure you) finish in one sitting.
When You Reach Me follows a 12 year old girl named Miranda. She is recently estranged from her best friend, Sal, following an incident where he is punched by a stranger on the street. As she learns to navigate her life without Sal— making new friends, working at a sandwich shop, helping her mom train for a game show— she begins to receive a series of cryptic letters from an anonymous source.
The author, Rebecca Stead, crafts Miranda’s world like a dream. She integrates bizarre occurrences into the novel so smoothly that they feel almost natural. It is only when the reader looks at the big picture that something is noticeably off. The mood is mysterious, but not flagrantly so. Sometimes, tools like suspense or Big Unanswered Questions feel like, well, tools. There’s something kind of boring about being blatantly manipulated into curiosity. However, Stead’s low-key and untheatrical manner makes every question and mystery feel genuine and important.
One of the greatest things about When You Reach Me is how the young people are portrayed as nuanced and complex characters. It’s not a mystery why, at age 12, everyone I knew was so drawn to this story. In a literary world where young people (especially preteens— and girls!) face a lot of condescension and shallow storylines, When You Reach Me does the opposite. These characters are sharp and interesting and flawed, with unpredictable motives, confused feelings and genuine humanity.
When You Reach Me makes me want to observe and understand everything, to participate fully and think deeper. It’s a book that I will surely return to many times. If, like me, you missed the bandwagon in 6th grade: let me tell you. It’s not too late.
Today’s review is by Isabel Najjar, a junior at State College Area High School.