On My Bookshelf: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

November 02, 2015

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a great upper elementary/middle school read about learning to make new friends and accept the differences in others. The main character, Miranda, has recently lost her best friend but gained some new ones, and when she begins receiving mysterious notes from an unknown sender about events in her future.
Basic plot: 12-year-old Miranda walks home from school with her best friend, and only friend, Sal, each day to the apartment building where they both live. Walking with Sal makes it a little easier to get past the group of teenage boys hanging out on their stoop and the crazy old man at the mailbox. But after one of the boys punches Sal, he doesn't want to walk home or do anything else with Miranda. And so Miranda makes some new friends: Annemarie, recently "dumped" by her best friend Julia, and Colin who suggests they get a job at a local sandwich shop. She even befriends Marcus, the boy who punched Sal, who tries to explain the concept of time travel to her, the subject of her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. But then Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes from an unknown sender who seems to know things about Miranda before they even happen. After a truck hits Sal and the crazy old man, Miranda starts to piece together the meaning of the notes, who might be sending them, and why.

Why I liked it: The simplicity of the characters in When You Reach Me was refreshing. Miranda and her friends are in sixth grade, still young and fairly innocent. The author doesn't push them into the maturity and drama of many other characters/novels targeting this age group. I also liked the relationship between Miranda and her mother, who trusts her daughter, but not too much. Miranda's mother isn't a "helicopter" parent, nor does she try to be Miranda's friend. She is a good mix of laying down the law and spontaneous fun.

Classroom application: This would be a good addition to an upper elementary/ middle school classroom library and a perfect recommendation for students like Miranda who love A Wrinkle in Time. The novel could also be used as a fiction pairing with a unit or set of readings about he possibility of time travel. Interested students would also enjoy Ray Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder."

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of When You Reach Me for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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  1. I found this book a bit confusing, so I'm glad you didn't. I had a hard time understanding why it won the Newberry. On that basis alone, I'd bought six copies for my classroom the year it won, but only found one student who finished it, and she also struggled. Not sure what it was about this book that made it more of a struggle.