This year’s Newbery Medal winner, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, is exactly my kind of book. It has all my favorite elements: great voice, well-drawn characters, a moving story, a clear sense of place/time, an intriguing mystery, and lots of allusions to one of my most-beloved books (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle). Best of all, it’s got … yes … TIME TRAVEL! I enjoyed it so much, I could hardly believe the Newbery committee picked it.
Maybe that’s overly cynical--I’m actually a big fan of the Newbery books. I liked last year’s winner (Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book). And I love Cynthia Lord’s Rules (2007 Honor Book), and Ingrid Law’s Savvy (2009 Honor Book, which I reviewed on my blog here), and Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy (2006 Honor Book). Really, I agree with the committee’s selections more often than not. But, for some reason, this year I was expecting something less entertaining. More, uh … “literary”, in the worst sense (depressing and inaccessible).
When You Reach Me was a wonderful surprise. It’s about Miranda, a twelve-year-old sixth grader in New York City in the late 1970s. Stead’s prose is neither flowery nor overly descriptive, but it is very effective--and evocative. I can clearly visualize the Manhattan public school (complete with dentist’s office), Miranda's apartment where her mom practices for her upcoming appearance on $20,000 Pyramid, Jimmy’s sandwich shop, and the corner with the homeless guy lying under the mailbox. I’m not going to write a synopsis, because I don’t want to spoil this one. Just read it.