Tag Archives: Boston Globe-Horn Book Award

When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up, Miranda’s life has been pretty normal. Her childish yet bright single mother falling in love, wavering over whether to give Richard (Mr. Perfect) a key to their New York apartment, getting all excited over entering a TV game show, making plans for what to do with the winnings before she ever gets on the show. Her best friend Sal who has always been there for her, growing up together, like two sides of the same coin. But her sixth grade year, Miranda’s life begins to fall apart. Sal stops talking to her for no obvious reason, and suddenly nothing seems certain anymore. And then she starts getting these messages, small notes giving her instructions, telling her things about the future that no one should have known, claiming that the writer has come back in time to prevent something awful–and that her following these instructions is vital to this happening.

When You Reach Me is one of those unexpected, brilliant finds that just go to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Although the whole Newbery Award should have probably been a good indicator of that. It’s like this fabulous mashup of the things I love best of the writings of Madeleine L’Engle (no surprise, since she’s clearly an influencer of Stead’s writing), E. L. Konigsburg, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The writing itself is just really good, for one, with layers of depth in the characters and little observations of the everyday thrown into the mix and with a lot of character development and growth and self-realization over the course of the story. That in itself would make for a great story, but then you throw in all the time-travel stuff and the mystery surrounding that, and the book goes to a whole new level in my mind. I liked that attention was given to the effects of time travel, but essentially zero mention was made of the actual mechanics; it wouldn’t work in every situation, but for this story, it was the best possible way to handle the topic. The inclusion of all the references to A Wrinkle in Time really helped to set the stage and explain the time travel better, so that was nicely done as well. Oh, and this is an actual instance of first-person, present-tense that actually works; it feels like reading a letter for the most part, maybe that letter Miranda was supposed to write. Recommended particularly for middle-grade readers, but this is one of those stories that surpasses its recommended grade range, so if you like the above authors’ works and are interested in time travel-related stories, When You Reach Me may be worth trying.

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The Schwa Was Here

Author: Neal ShustermanThe Schwa Was Here

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Antsy Bonano can’t remember the first time he met Calvin Schwa, known to one and all as “The Schwa”. But then most folks can’t; the Schwa’s just like that. You can be right next to him and forget he’s even there . . . sort of like he chameleon’s into the surroundings. And he’s hard to even think about for long, your thoughts just sort of wander off to other things. The Schwa has been aware of this circumstance–something Antsy refers to as being “functionally invisible” or “The Schwa Effect”–for most of his life, but it’s only when Antsy notices him enough to actually pay attention that someone finds a way to capitalize on this phenomenon. The two quickly become partners, raking in money from jobs and dares. But even in the midst of his newfound popularity, the Schwa still worries what will happen if his deepest fears come true and he’s forgotten altogether . . . a fear that seems less unlikely the longer Antsy knows him.

Neal Shusterman’s novels are always exceptional and original, and The Schwa Was Here is no exception. This is a delightful middle grade/high school contemporary novel that slips comfortably into the realm of the tall tale, similar to how Louis Sachar and Daniel Pinkwater’s stories tend to. The characters are robust and interesting, and as long as you accept the premise of “The Schwa Effect” the story is absolutely fascinating. It makes you take a slightly different look at daily life and the people around you. Plus there’s that element of mystery scattered throughout. The story ranges from enigmatic to funny, commonplace to philosophical in an instant, examining a variety of situations and relationships and surprising the reader in wonderful ways. Plus, the whole tale is told in Antsy’s delightful Brooklyn tone–his voice is really fun to read. And I love the way he sometimes wanders off topic, clearly illustrating his point about how forgettable the Schwa really is. I would highly recommend The Schwa Was Here to basically anyone, but especially to those who enjoy a fresh, fun look at middle grade stories.

Note: The Schwa Was Here is connected to Shusterman’s Antsy Does Timetechnically it precedes Antsy Does Time–but it’s totally ok to read them in either order. No major spoilers or plot problems either way.

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