Once in a while a great book comes along, one that draws you in and yet will remain completely elusive when you try to tell others about it. There’s a sense of mystery, of charm, that is palpable, and you know whoever you hand the book to will absolutely love it, yet the book itself defies description.
When You Reach Me is one of those books.
It has the feel of those books about precocious kids in the 1970s, books that I loved growing up: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Westing Game, Harriet the Spy, and — most of all — A Wrinkle in Time. The last one, in fact, plays a major role in the novel: our main character, Miranda (named for the Miranda Rights) adores Madeline L’Engle’s classic, preferring to carry around and read her beat-up copy rather than read the books with the spunky girls on the cover her teachers put in front of her.
There really is so much to love about this book. From the tight writing — Stead is not only amazing at capturing characters with minimal descriptions, but also at foreshadowing — to the plot itself; there is not a wrong moment in the book. For me, the best part is puzzling out the mystery along with Miranda. It’s not a completely implausible puzzle, once one gets over the initial conceit, and it’s fascinating to see how all the pieces fall into place.
Fascinating doesn’t cut it: it’s a remarkable — if indescribable — book all around.
Rated: Mild, for a couple of instances of mild swearing