Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

When you reach me

when you reach meSuperbly plotted, engaging book about friendship, growing up and time.

You know you have read something special when months later, you still remember a scene or a feeling and take the time to wonder…

Won the 2010 Newbery Medal.

OVERALL: 5 Stars

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Concept:5 Stars
Characters:5 Stars
Plot:5 Stars
Writing:5 Stars

Rebecca Stead

N/A
2009
Wendy Lamb Books
208

 

Description

6th grader Miranda lives in 1970s New York in a tiny apartment with her Mum. Sal, her best friend since forever, also lives in the same apartment block and so when he decides he no longer wants to be friends with Miranda she finds herself suddenly at sea. Forced to find other friends and different things to do with her time, she helps out at a sandwich shop at lunchtime and focuses on helping her Mum prepare for a game show – The $20,000 Pyramid. Then she finds a mysterious, creepy note in her library book asking her to write a letter and to divulge in it the location of her hidden, spare, house key. Miranda ignores it, but more notes follow and soon she finds herself an integral part in saving the lives of two people.

Concept

The science fiction aspect and it being set in 1970s New York really gives this book a unique, engaging concept.

As I was reading this book I was thrust back to when I was thirteen and devouring Judy Blume books with wide-eyed enthusiasm. The only difference here is that where Judy tended to keep her books open-ended, (which as a kid annoyed me even though now I can appreciate the message – life doesn’t have neat endings) Rebecca Stead rounds out her book.


Characters

From Miranda to the homeless guy to Miranda’s Mum, the characters are all well drawn out, realistic and interesting. But while Stead does a great job of giving her characters unique personalities and bringing them to life, her strength is in portraying the relationships between them. The way Miranda’s relationship with her Mum, her friends, and Marcus evolves is beautifully portrayed and captivating.

Plot 

I loved this book. So, so much. It was filled with some big science fiction ideas but still always managed to ring true. It helped me remember what kids are really like at that age, how they often only notice what they want to, how friendship can be fluid (you’re not my friend anymore and I’m not gonna tell you why) and how their views and experiences are filled with easy misunderstandings. I also thought that the awareness of class that the book introduces is also really relevant for this age.

love in spaceOh and then there is the wonderful story that weaves and dips and draws you in so that you force yourself to read faster and faster because you want to know, no, you need to know what happens next.

Another thing that really struck me about this book was that being set in the 1970s, it really highlights the changes between how kids lived then and how they live now. Miranda has much more freedom to move around the neighbourhood and comes home to an empty apartment after school. She also eats loads of junk food, and gets a job at lunchtime. I can’t imagine my daughter spending her lunch hours helping out in a sandwich shop! Another big difference is the absence of any tech – mobile phones, tablets and computers, but strangely this is only noticeable when Miranda leaves the house and forgets to tell her Mum where she is going. Miranda’s Mum is frantic and Miranda gets into trouble. That sort of thing doesn’t happen these days since most kids are no more than a text away.

Writing: It won the Newberry Prize. Of course, it’s well written! The prose is simple and compelling.

PARENTS:

This book pays homage to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Rebecca Stead does such a good job of it that I rushed out and read A Wrinkle in Time straight after. So if you are trying to get your kids to read classics, this may be your way in!

The themes in this book are friendship, the consequences of your actions, science fiction, class differences and making amends. This is a wonderful book for you to discuss a lot of meaty issues and is suitable for both girls and boys.

Things to ask and discuss:

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and details out. Or just let your child mull it over alone. Don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it!

  1. Can you understand why Sal acted like he did about his friendship with Miranda? Do you think he could have handled it in a different way?
  2. What are the biggest differences between Miranda’s life in the 1970s and your life now?
  3. Why do you think that Miranda and her friends liked working at the sandwich shop at lunch times?
  4. Do you think that Marcus should have been punished for what he did to Sal? Or do you think that Miranda and the dentist did the right thing?
  5. When did you suspect that there might be more to the homeless man?

 

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Book Reviews and Writer