Saturday, January 23, 2010

Currently Reading ... When You Reach Me

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.

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