When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2009
When I was a kid and had to stay home sick from school, I always enjoyed spending the morning watching game shows. I liked Match Game, The Joker's Wild, SuperPassword, and, of course, The $25,000 Pyramid. This particular game show (yes, the one hosted by Dick Clark) plays a prominent role in Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. Miranda is a 12-year-old New Yorker whose mother is preparing to be a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid (as it was known in the Seventies). Quite often when she returned home from school Miranda would get that day's clues from the game show from her neighbor, who had watched that day's show (this was before VCR's and way before DVR's). Then she would dutifully record the clues on note cards. In the evening Miranda, her mom, and Richard, her mom's boyfriend, would practice giving and answering clues in the manner of the game show. This is kind of a quirky detail to work into the plot. The intended audience of this book, middle grade readers, I'm sure will have never heard of the $20,000 Pyramid before reading this book, and very few of them will know who Dick Clark is. But it's the quirky details which make this book great.
I loved this book, and the middle school readers I know who have read it have loved it as well. It won the 2010 Newbery Medal. When You Reach Me is above all a poignant book about friendship. Miranda has always been best friends with her neighbor, Sal, but after a perplexing chain of events, Miranda and Sal drift apart. Miranda starts hanging out with two new friends, Annemarie and Colin. My favorite detail in the whole book is that back in 1970's New York, middle school students could leave campus for lunch and hang out at the deli or pizza place in the neighborhood. Miranda, Annemarie, and Sal decide to spend their 45-minute lunch periods actually working at the deli across the street from their school (they are paid with sandwiches and sodas). Those were the days! The actual plot concerns a mystery, and there are some science fiction elements in the story as well. I won't give away any spoilers, but I will say that A Wrinkle in Time is featured prominently in the story, and that there are comparisons which could be made between this book and recent episodes of Lost. This is a great book, one that I think will be enjoyed by many future generations of young readers. It's that good.