Every so often, I read a book that I love so much I will stop complete strangers at the library or the bookstore and beg them to read it. This is one of those books.
The beginning of this book is puzzling, but don't give up. It starts out with a cryptic prologue that doesn't make sense until you've read the entire book. Then we get to the heart of the story: eleven-year-old Miranda is a latchkey child living in New York City, the only child of a single mother. She's dealing with a lot of normal issues, like changing friendships, and first crushes, but the book also some more serious stuff -- safety in the big city, scary homeless people, racism, prejudice, and a frustrated mother in a low-paying job.
For a while this book seemed like just another realistic fiction book, albeit set in 1979, which is an interesting choice of time periods. It's so well written -- the characters are beautifully developed and the descriptions of Miranda's life in New York are so vivid, it's like I was right there in the sixth grade with her. Miranda is so real and the author has really captured what it's like to be that age. But midway through the book something happens that completely brings this book to a whole different level of wonderful. All I can say is that Miranda receives a mysterious message that changes her life forever. I'm afraid of saying too much because there is such a great twist to this story. I don't want to ruin it for anyone. I'm even going to be really vague in the tags so I don't spoil it for anyone. Also, I will warn readers: Miranda is reading the children's classic A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, and throughout the book she explains the story to a friend. I'm sorry to say she reveals some important plot points of that book, which is my one tiny complaint about this book -- if you read this BEFORE A Wrinkle in Time, it might spoil that book for you. Or you could just go read that first and then you'd read two amazing books in a row.
This had been in my library hold queue for several weeks, and I don't even remember adding it to the list. When it arrived, I couldn't even remember why I wanted to read it, and I kept putting it off. When I finally started reading it the other day, I was completely mesmerized and read the entire thing in one sitting. I laughed and gasped and cried, and when it was done, I brought it with me to my daughter's elementary school, because I was scheduled to volunteer at the book fair. I showed it to the librarian, to the library aide, some of the teachers, and all of the other parents who were helping out. Yesterday when I went to the public library where I volunteer, I found the branch's copy and marched over to the children's librarian and handed it to her. I'm spreading the gospel of When You Reach Me. It really is that good. If it doesn't make the Newbery shortlist, I will be shocked and appalled, unless there's something even better that I haven't read yet. If there is, I'd be lucky to read two such wonderful books.