Review: When You Reach Me

Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House
Genre: middle grade, mainstream fiction, light science fiction

In Their Words:
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the stree for what sems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper…

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes 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.

In Mine:
I really enjoyed this book, but I’m really not a fan of the description above (taken, as always, from the book cover). It just doesn’t do the book justice. It makes it sound cut-and-dry, almost boring, and the book is anything but.

When You Reach Me is about 6th-grade Miranda, who, while navigating the loss of a best friend, rivalry with another, a new possible crush, and the slow, awkward climb to adulthood,  stumbles upon a mystery: a serious of eerily-accurate notes. The novel has a few interlacing story-lines, but does a good job of balancing them.  It even touches on issues of race, class, and death. All-in-all, a very sophisticate read. It also makes a lot of references to A Wrinkle in Time, which will charm fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic.

I’m not a fan of the cover. In fact, I think the cover is doing a huge disservice for the book, and I’m a little horrified that it doesn’t seem to have changed for the paperback edition. The image I used is for the paperback, and really the only difference from the hardcover is that there are now 3 big red dots instead of one, and it tries to use the map concept idea more. I like what they’re doing with the title, but the image simply has to go.

It’s not that it’s a bad image (although I’m not a fan of it in general), but it simply doesn’t look like a sophisticate book; it looks like a picture book. Now, there are a lot of wonderful picture books, but When You Reach Me isn’t one of them. It’s definitely middle grade, aimed at eight to ten year olds. But it’s a story that will easily appeal to adults, especially teachers and librarians.

The current cover also looks like they just took important symbols from the book, and threw them all together. It doesn’t tell you at all what the book is really about. Does that look even remotely science fiction to you? Magical realism even? Like it’s set in a somewhat gritty part of New York City?

It would have been much better to simply pick one key image (say, a note sticking out of a coat pocket, or the mailbox the Laughing Man sleeps under), and focus on that. Iknow a lot of people who put off reading this book because the cover made it look so boring; in fact, although I bought it after it was recommended highly, I waited a whole six months before reading it simply because I was turned off by the cover.

With a book that could have such universal appeal, it’s sad to see it being wasted.

Final Rating:
5/5 Loved it, but it needs a better cover.

About Lucy

If you want to get fancy, Lucy lives in Portland, OR, and has a MA in Writing/Book Publishing, with a focus on Young Adult Literature, and a heaping disregard for literary snobbishness (she was an English Major–she’s seen and spouted her fair share). She works as a social media marketer, and has dabbled in developmental editing as a freelancer.
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