When You Reach Me won the Newbery Medal in 2010, and it kind of let me wondering if 2009 was just a bad year for published children’s novels. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine novel but I don’t think it holds up the way other Newbery winners have in the past. It is very strong on the nostalgia factor though, which makes me wonder if that is one of the reasons it won. Nostalgia for the Medal awarders obviously, not the children who read the book.
The book is set in 1978, and it does capture the feel of some of the novels written around that era. It reminded me, very strongly, of a watered down E.L. Konigsburg’s novel with some sci-fi elements thrown in. Miranda is a sixth grader, estranged from her long time best friend and trying to cope with life as a latch key kid. She thinks she’s perfectly ordinary, but then she starts getting notes from a stranger who seems to know the future. As she goes through her school year, she tries to figure out what the notes mean while also making new friends and coping with issues of class and racism.
I liked the book, and I found it to be a very, very fast read. Honestly, I kind of struggle with this book as an award winner because it is so simply written. I don’t want to sound snobbish and say that we’re dumbing down books for kids and that’s bad, but I’m gonna do it anyway. This book feels way too simplistic to be targeted towards sixth graders. However, I also don’t deal with sixth graders on a regular basis, and I was a precocious reader so I can’t really judge by my memory either.
Miranda is a very believable 12 year old girl, and her struggles felt real. The plot is a bit simplistic, and I’m pretty sure that most readers are going to figure out the twists and turns of the novel pretty early on in the book. But it was enjoyable nonetheless.
I think I’m going to have to read the Newbery Honor books this year to really judge, but I’m still not convinced this was the best book of the year. That being said, it’s good and definitely something I would hand off to a kid looking for a book to read. And I can check this one off my list of Newbery winners.