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.
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
My rating: 4.5 of 5
In a small Welsh town where it rains nearly daily and nothing every really happens, Dylan finds himself the last boy anywhere near his age. So even a soccer game is out. Left keeping the petrol log for his family’s gas station/mechanic shop and avoiding the unwelcome attentions of “Terrible” Evans, it seems like nothing will ever change . . . until one day when a whole cavalcade of vans rumbles past their station, up the mountain, to the abandoned slate quarry. Suddenly, the town is abuzz with gossip. Perhaps even moreso when it becomes known that the contents of the National Gallery have been temporarily relocated to the quarry due to flooding. And somehow, the presence and exposure to the art there begins to change Dylan and his town . . . but will the changes all be for the good, or will Dylan and his siblings be inspired to more sinister designs?
As always, Frank Cottrell Boyce delivers a home run of a story in Framed. The writing, the characters, the themes–it’s all brilliantly executed and very readable. I love the way he chooses a few motifs and uses them repeatedly to tie the story together and draw out deeper ideas in a way that’s relatable. Surprisingly, this is perhaps the most credible and realistic of his stories that I’ve read to date; most of them tend to be rather tall-tale like (or even just be absurd science fiction), but this story is something that–while improbably–could possibly actually happen. Which is actually pretty great, because this is a story of inspiration and positive change in the midst of darkness and stagnation. I love the art aspect of this story as well; in a lot of ways that aspect reminds me of E. L. Konigsburg’s books (she’s another favorite of mine!). All in all, Framed is a great middle-grade story which reaches way beyond its intended grade range–recommended for basically anyone!
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When Amedeo moves to the suburbs for his mom’s work, he’s not really sure what to expect; everything’s so different from the city life he’s used to. What he is sure about is that he wants an adventure–to discover something that’s been hidden, some sort of treasure. As he helps his new best friend William Wilcox and his mom Mrs. Wilcox out, he gets the opportunity he’s been waiting for. These three are helping Amedeo’s eccentric, flamboyant neighbor, Mrs. Zender, get ready to move, pricing and sorting all the items she can’t take with her. There’s sure to be something interesting buried among all the paraphernalia of the once-wealthy, right? And regardless of the outcome, Amedeo is making sound friendships in his new home and experiencing a kind of life he’s never before imagined.
I admire E. L. Konigsburg’s writing deeply. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler has been a favorite of mine ever since I was in elementary school, and I feel that The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World well lives up to the standard. It’s full of life and a keen observation of character. The people involved are unique and interesting–full of unexpected quirks, yet completely unassuming and natural in the way they’re written. I believe I could meet any of them on the street, they’re that sort of character, in the best sense. Furthermore, as with so many of Konigsburg’s books, this story places a significant emphasis on art–in this case the Modern, or Degenerate, Art that was spurned by the Nazis during the second World War. The connections drawn between art, history, humanity, and the present day are tasteful, touching, and completely credible. I was truly impressed. I think my only warning regarding this book is that, while it is definitely a children’s book (the main character’s something like 10), it doesn’t artificially protect readers from things like swearing, violence, and homosexuality; it’s beautifully, painfully honest, but in a way that protective parents might find problematic. Whatever. I absolutely give high recommendations to The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World for readers young and old.
Note: This book is connected to Konigsburg’s other book The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. You certainly don’t have to have read that one to enjoy The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, but it’s a neat extra for those who have.