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>When You Reach Me

March 10, 2011

>I’m afraid that Rebecca Stead took Ursula le Guin at face value when she was exposed to the quotation so beloved among writer’s groups: “Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up.”  I think she wanted to write the kind of children’s book that Madeleine L’Engle described in her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech:
“Even the most straightforward tales say far more than they seem to mean on the surface. Little Women, The Secret Garden, Huckleberry Finn — how much more there is in them than we realize at a first reading. They partake of the universal language, and this is why we turn to them again and again when we are children, and still again when we have grown up.”

How else can one explain the plot of When You Reach Me, permeated with references to L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and yet disingenuous about the conventions of any of the time travel literature that preceded it?

When You Reach Me is a time travel story for children who have never read a time travel story before–children who have never read A Wrinkle in Time.  It is a story with characters that seem wooden because they’re all hiding something until an opportune moment.  And it’s a 2010 Newbery winner. Go figure.

Here’s the spoiler:  IT’S A TIME TRAVEL STORY!  But since you don’t know that until the end, there are no rules.  No rules, no fun, I say.

Who could possibly like this book?  Maybe a young girl who thinks she only likes realistic fiction.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 1:04 pm

    >Madeline and I really loved this book.

  2. March 10, 2011 1:06 pm

    >FreshHell, I was actually thinking of you and M when I tried to think of who would like it–realistic fiction fans who don't often stray into the realm of science fiction

  3. March 10, 2011 1:42 pm

    >Yeah, what is up with the Newbery committee? One disappointing choice after another…I approach recent Newberys with rigidly tamped-down expectations, alas.

  4. March 10, 2011 1:44 pm

    >My friend Karen adored this one so I really tried and just couldn't get past a chapter or so. My son, on the other hand, absolutely adores this one and has read it over and over. He read Wrinkle before it, and wasn't impressed. Interesting.

  5. March 10, 2011 1:55 pm

    >Nancy, I think you and I share a very long and deep experience of reading to kids, and I know I used to get a sense that the Newbery and Caldecott stickers on the front meant something when the kids were browsing through all the thin books at the library or a store looking for something new.I think part of my problem with this book might have been that my expectations were too high, but that's certainly not all of it. I wonder if I'm going to have to stop reading books my kids are too old for. Perhaps it's curmudgeonliness setting in.

  6. March 10, 2011 1:59 pm

    >Amanda, That's interesting that your son loves this book. I do think that it can be more fun for a kid to read a book with no expectations, never having read a time travel story, or a story about a person who lives in a big city.It's a rare child who doesn't like A Wrinkle in Time, unless he or she reads it too early or has the didactic/religious aspects forced.

  7. March 10, 2011 3:37 pm

    >@ Jeanne – I'm intrigued by your last comment, as I think that part of why I liked "Wrinkle" was that I got the religious aspects. Then again, I realize as I grow older that my religious upbringing was a trifle unusual.I wonder how long it will take this book to be banned as often as "Wrinkle" – ?-lemming

  8. March 10, 2011 4:00 pm

    >Lemming, I can't think of anything in this book that could possibly get it banned. There's nothing controversial; no big idea… aside from the one in caps.Some people, and I think Amanda's family are among them, don't like the way L'Engle's religious worldview is presented in A Wrinkle in Time.

  9. March 10, 2011 8:31 pm

    >I read this book last year and really enjoyed it. I came in with no real expectations, and I was enchanted. Just goes to show that we all react differently! Glad to have your thoughts on it though!-Beth

  10. March 10, 2011 8:39 pm

    >Beth, I'm out of step on this one. I know I'm not too old to be enchanted, but it takes more than this.

  11. March 10, 2011 9:45 pm

    >It's odd how fully my perceptions tend to be line with yours when you find a book doesn't live up to to it's reputation, whereas the books we both like I often like in a slightly different way…To be fair to both Stead and cowardly me, who failed to review this book, I listened it on CD. I wondered if that's part of why it didn't come alive for me–also the unconsciously lordly NYC-centricity, which is an automatic irritant. I wasn't sure I'd "got" it.I thought Stead conveyed the pain and confusion of an expiring childhood friendship quite well, but then, there are a couple of modern children's authors I think have done an even better job of that and missed out on the accolades.I like what Amanda says, because it reminds me kids' novels are written for kids now, not kids when I was a kid.

  12. March 10, 2011 9:53 pm

    >Oh, and per your response to Amanda, Jeanne. I'm pretty sure I read a Wrinkle in Time too *late* to love it (14-ish). So that can happen too.

  13. March 10, 2011 9:56 pm

    >It was the more realistic aspects of this story that worked for me, rather than the time-travel/Wrinkle in Time elements, as well as the fact I'm roughly the same vintage as the main characters, which imparted a sense of nostalgia to my reading. But I love A Wrinkle in Time much more.

  14. March 11, 2011 12:11 am

    >I wasn't particularly blown away by this book, but I did enjoy it–and I also like time travel books! I actually enjoyed the way this played with time travel without reading like a time travel book; it made it feel different to me.And hands up as another person who read Wrinkle when I was a little too old for it. I liked it fine, but didn't quite get wrapped up in the magic of it.

  15. March 11, 2011 1:08 am

    >Trapunto, I'm thinking about why we might seem to agree more on the ones we don't like–maybe I tend to let myself go farther into the personal when I like a book a lot.If I'd done more of that about this book, I'd have said that I didn't like or understand the expiring friendship part–there was no reason it had to expire except that Sal decided to be a silent he-man about wanting other friends. There are boys who manage that without being such a dick about it.Florinda, I don't mean to say I didn't like anything about the book! Any book that gives you a warm, nostalgic feeling and gives Amanda's son a charge too is doing a number of things right.Teresa, the repeated references to the broccoli bothered me. If you're going to go into such detail, I think you should have the details worked out. That–at least for me–is the fun of time travel stories.As you say, it plays with time travel. Just a bit too coy for my taste.

  16. March 16, 2011 1:29 am

    >I have often found Newbery books disappointing — some are wonderful, but in general I don't consider a Newbery prize a reason to read a book.

  17. March 16, 2011 11:49 am

    >Jenny, thanks for the reassurance that it's not all curmudgeonliness!

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