Tag Archives: John Newbery Medal

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 Graveyard Book

the graveyard bookAuthor: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Dave McKean

My rating: 5 of 5

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) has a life that is not quite ordinary. After the murder of his family and his own near miss with death, Bod moves in . . . to the graveyard. Mr. and Mrs. Owens have been dead for years, yet they take Bod in to raise as their own child, with the help of his new guardian, the dark and mysterious Silas.

This book is an unexpected treasure. Neil Gaiman is an amazing author, but most of his works are distinctly adult. The Graveyard Book is deep and complex enough to be enjoyed by grown-ups, yet is innocent enough to be appropriate for children. It is a heartwarming story, artfully enhanced by delicious touches of spine-tingling otherness.

In particular, I appreciate Gaiman’s use of words. He has an art of choosing the precise phrasing that not only expresses his technical intent, but that also evokes the flavor of that intent. In addition, he has a great ability to say things without ever actually saying them–for instance, I don’t believe he ever states that Silas is a vampire, yet the impression is there from the beginning and is only reinforced over time. This book is a treat to read, combining elements of mystery, history, suspense, and fantasy into a unique story that I highly recommend.

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