But then everything changes. When Sal is punched by a boy in the street, he stops walking home with Miranda. Suddenly she has to get past the crazy guy on the corner without Sal's help. Suddenly she has to find new friends.
And then the notes start arriving. Somebody out there knows things that are going to happen. Like the fact that Miranda's mom will be picked as a contestant for The $20,000 Pyramid. And that they will soon be called to save the life of someone very close to Miranda...
As a child, one of my favourite books was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, in which Meg Murry travels through space and time to bring her missing father home to his family. It's one of the novels that first opened my eyes to the magic of science-fiction and fantasy. It's also the favourite book of twelve year old Miranda, the heroine of Rebecca Stead's glorious fusion of time-travel, mystery and coming-of-age set in Seventies' New York City.
Although it's by no means necessary to read A Wrinkle In Time first, readers familiar with L'Engle's classic novel will no doubt appreciate the way that Stead invokes Meg Murry's story throughout When You Reach Me. I'm a firm believer that books have the power to bring people together, and I'm sure that anyone who loved A Wrinkle In Time as a child will connect with Miranda for that very reason. She's someone who herself bonds deeply with the characters in her favourite book, and who genuinely wants to believe in the events of the story no matter how great a suspension of disbelief it takes. Which is, as it happens, exactly what the readers of When You Reach Me will find themselves doing.
Except that When You Reach Me is a story that makes the idea of time-travel seem incredibly plausible. As events unfold in the exact chronological order that Miranda experiences them, what we get as readers is a puzzle: a story sprinkled with seemingly random events that don't initially seem significant but may later prove to be. Or not. It's a wonderfully intriguing arrangement, and one that will keep readers guessing until the very end - when everything finally clicks beautifully into place. In the days after reading the book, I found myself making belated connections and marvelling at the level of genius in Rebecca Stead's plotting. Where time-travel is usually a subject that I have to push my disbelief to its limits to believe in, in When You Reach Me it all makes a curious kind of sense.
Not so keen on science fiction or fantasy? No problem. At the heart of When You Reach Me is the story of a twelve-year-old latch-key kid dealing with the fact that her lifelong best friend Sal is suddenly avoiding her. They've been inseparable since they were small children, but recently he's become distant - and Miranda's heart has been left fragile. In addition to the time-travel mystery Rebecca Stead gives us a bittersweet story about moving on, becoming your own person, and learning what a mistake it is to rely on surface impressions. As this one is set in the Seventies there's also a healthy dose of nostalgia that will charm even the most sci-fi phobic reader.
When You Reach Me is the kind of novel that transcends age categorisation. I'd recommend it to anyone who can handle a middle-grade vocabulary, whether you're nine years old or ninety. It's a novel that will touch your soul and get you thinking about mind-blowing concepts like the space-time continuum all at the same time. It's a brain-bending, heartwarming beauty of a book. Definitely not to be missed.
Out: since July 14th 2009, US