I’ve always been a sucker for time travel stories, whether it’s movies like Back to the Future or the novels and stories of Connie Willis. When I heard that Rebecca Stead’s Newberry Award winning children’s novel When You Reach Me dealt with time travel, I was curious.
The book is set in late 1970s New York City. Sixth-grader Miranda and her single mother live in a small apartment and dream of a better life. Things start to look good when Miranda’s mom learns she will become a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. The preparations for the game show are the backdrop for the main story about Miranda and her friends.
Miranda’s favorite book is the classic time travel story A Wrinkle in Time. She reads it over and over and soon finds herself involved in what might be time travel. One day, Miranda receives a mysterious note that tells her, “I am coming to save your friend’s life and also my own.” In order to do this, Miranda needs to do certain things to assist the writer. As proof, the writer provides information about the future that no one could possibly know.
Despite the fantastic element of the novel, the real point is how Miranda deals with the relationships she has with several fellow sixth graders. There are misunderstandings that eventually are resolved. And of course, we also find out who wrote the notes.
The novel is well paced and plotted and the writing is simple, but not simplistic. As an adult reader, I found the characters well drawn, both the children and adults. For Christian readers, there’s nothing too offensive except for a sub-plot about the boyfriend of Miranda’s mother who wants to move in before he gets married. The positive messages in the novel are rather simple, mostly the benefits of close friendships with members of the same and opposite sex. There is an element of self-sacrifice that is important to the story, but surprisingly is not given much discussion, or at least as much as it deserves.