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Smugglivus 2010 Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Title: When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

Genre: Scifi/Mystery/YA

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Press (US) /Andersen(UK)
Publication Date: July 2009(US) / January 2011(UK)
Paperback: 208 pages

Miranda’s life is starting to unravel. Her best friend, Sal, gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The key that Miranda’s mum keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives:

‘I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter.’

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realises that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Review copy from Andersen Press

Why did I read this book: I got this book in the post this one day, thought the cover looked lovely and kept it on my dining table. One day, I was having breakfast and it was just sitting THERE and I thought: what the heck. I started to read it and couldn’t put it down. I had NO CLUE what it was about or that it won a major award last year.


Things You Don’t Know About Me:

I can be totally clueless and absentminded sometimes. For example: I did not know about this book until it arrived, unsolicited and unannounced, on my doorstep a few weeks ago even though it won the Newberry Medal last year. I did not know it was a Science Fiction novel until I started to read it, which I did only because I liked the cover. Although you probably DO know by now how much covers matter to me, you probably did not know that I can read a book based solely on a cover without reading the blurb which is what happened with When You Reach Me.

Things You Should Know About This Book:

It is a mixture of genres: part Science Fiction (time travel for the win!) part Mystery novel. It takes place in the late seventies, in NY and it follows a girl named Miranda;

Miranda, whose mother is about to go on the game show the The $20,000 Pyramid; Miranda, whose best friend Sal suddenly is no longer talking to her; Miranda, who started to receive anonymous notes :

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

Miranda, who must deal with everything that is happening, who narrates the story between present and past; between receiving the notes which prompts her to recall certain events to how the present has evolved since them.

Things I Cannot Tell You About This Book:

So many things. Because this is a time-travel/mystery novel anything I say might be a clue and you don’t want to know about them because it will completely spoil it for you. Yes, I understand this is very frustrating but you must trust me on this.

Things That I Loved About This Book:

Miranda. Miranda, who is lonely without Sal but once Sal is away starts to develop new friendships.

That this may be a super cool book with time travel in it but it is not really a book about time travel at all – which is how it should be. It’s a book about family, friendships, about seeing past prejudice, about talking to people, about things that can go wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it, unless you know, there’s time travelling involved in the proceedings.

Marcus. (and I shall leave it at that).

The structure of the book: back and forth and with clues being revealed little by little, even though at the time of reading, you do not know that they are clues at all. And I just said too much.

The numerous shout outs to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle which is Miranda’s favourite book and of course, the connections between these two books. I had not read A Wrinkle in Time before reading When You Reach Me but I downloaded it to my Kindle immediately after finishing it and read it straight away. And this is another thing I loved about When You Reach Me: that it pays homage to a classic without being a copy of it and that the love for A Wrinkle in Time is so obvious, the reader has no choice but to want to read it, if they haven’t already. One of the great things about literature is how one book may lead to another and to another and so on and so forth in an infinite spiral of possibilities.

How every single detail of the cover is relevant.

The ending: OMG.

The thing that you must do now:


Notable Quotes/Parts:

I Still think about the letter you asked me to write. It nags at me, even though you’re gone and there’s no one to give it to anymore. Sometimes I work on it in my head, trying to map out the story you asked me to tell, about everything that happened this past fall and winter. It’s all still there, like a movie I can watch when I want to. Which is never.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman.


  • Rana
    December 7, 2010 at 9:03 am

    This looks so good!
    I’m also guilty of never hearing about this before. So, that makes two of us 😛

  • heather
    December 7, 2010 at 9:31 am

    ooh, this looks so good. i hadn’t heard of it either! must track down soooon!

  • Christine
    December 7, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I read this book earlier this year, Ana. It really is a gem.

    I borrowed it from the library for myself because I have an unofficial, unspoken personal agenda to read Newberry Award books. That statement doesn’t count towards my claims of “unofficial” or “unspoken”, by the way. Pretend you didn’t read them. Anyway, my 11 year old picked it up off the coffee table and read it ahead of me and was so absorbed in it. She implored me to read it as soon as she was finished and then constantly asked me what part I was up to. She was very good about not giving away any surprises, but she always had this secret smile on her … just knowing what I was going to read next. That alone made this book so great for me. And I was close to Miranda’s age in that time period, so I could relate to the 70s stuff as a kid. 🙄

    As for the story itself… it was really a unique treat. Heartwarming and maybe a tad bittersweet… but in the end, a thought provoking and meaningful story.

  • Joanna
    December 8, 2010 at 6:16 am

    This sounds great. Newberry title usually are, perhaps following that award and reading past winners would be a good idea!

  • Olugbemisola
    December 9, 2010 at 9:37 am

    this was such a gorgeous, vibrant book — lovely writing, memorable characters, amazing story. i loved her first novel as well, First Light.

  • Book Review: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead | The Book Smugglers
    August 6, 2012 at 12:01 am

    […] did I read this book: I loved Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and have been on tenterhooks for another book from […]

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