Thursday, August 27, 2009

A review: When You Reach Me

SInce one of the things I plan on working on in the near future is a YA novel, I've been making an effort recently to read a lot of YA fiction. It's something I've always done in a small way - if a favorite author writes YA, I follow her to that side of the bookstore, I love Harry Potter, Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy, Tamora Pierce and others - but I've been making a conscious effort to look at what's being written in that corner of the world.

Even without that, I would have picked up Rebecca Stead's new book, When You Reach Me. The favorite book of the story's narrator, Miranda, is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

I really enjoyed When You Reach Me. The characters were real people, and their relationships played out like real life. On a writerly level, I was extremely impressed by the manner in which the ending pulled together the variety of plot threads, and made something extraordinary out of them. As Miranda says, "...it was like an invisible hand reached out and snatched away my veil. And for almost a minute, I understood everything."

The thing I found most interesting about this book is that while there is a definite speculative element to the story, and that element is key, it is not the focal point of the book. Rather than lighting off fireworks and yelling "Look! Here! Time travel!" Stead allows the speculative dimension to be just another dimension of the story she is telling. It haunts the edges, but never quite takes over. It becomes yet another part of the amazing things that sometimes happen in Miranda's life. And although when I first starting reading When You Reach Me, I wanted that speculative element to be more present, by the end, I was glad Stead wrote the book that she did. She perfectly captured that sense of possibility that is present in childhood. When You Reach Me is a quietly lovely book, the kind of story that is perfect for a fall afternoon. I highly recommend it.

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