When You Reach Me -- A Review


I chose this book for its title.

The incredibly awesome Writing Excuses team recently tackled the importance of book covers and titles, and as I listened to the episode, I remembered the book I had recently plucked off the library display for its haunting title.

When You Reach Me.

I was torn. Intriguing and lovely titles seem to always be snatched up by writers of sappy romances, and sappy romances always make me grumpy ("always" is up for debate... of course I have excuses for why the sappy romances I like aren't actually sappy romances).

So I read the inside flap of the dust cover. Miranda's best friend has been Sal for as long as she can remember, but after Sal is punched in the stomach by a stranger, he abruptly cuts Miranda out of his life. On the cusp of adolescence and a latchkey kid in a scary New York City apartment, Miranda is just beginning to adjust to life without Sal when the strange notes begin to arrive. "This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help . . . I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own . . . I will not be myself when I reach you."

I slipped the book onto my check-out pile.

Then my son shoved it under a dresser with several other books and a lot of junk mail, and I completely forgot about it until the Writing Excuses premise reminded me of its existence and sent me rummaging through the house and all (if only) of Jack's possible hiding spots.

I began the book late at night as a diversion, and I started falling asleep immediately. Jack was asleep across my arm, so I couldn't leave, but I couldn't just go to sleep either, since there was food to put away.

I'm not sure exactly when I stopped falling asleep because I was just so involved.

Jack rolled off of me, but I read and read. And read. And finished the book completely wide awake.

It has been said that many of the best plots are difficult to describe, and When You Reach Me falls right into that category. The story holds mysteries within mysteries (some more guessable for geeks like me than others), but that was not ultimately why I loved it. Between the lines of the basic plot are amazingly expressed truths about family and friendship and of course life in general, truths that ache with loveliness and resonance. It is music both familiar and unique. It is so beautiful it hurts.

You can't see that in a synopsis.... but often you can see spoilers, which oddly enough a lot of other reviewers have included, so I'd recommend you postpone googling the book if you do intend to read it.

When I finished the story, I looked it up and learned that I was definitely not in the minority opinion.

Notice anything different? Oou, shiny! And a very wise choice.

My main caveat about the book is that from this side of twenty, it sure does seem like the characters should all be a year or two older than they are. I'm not sure how likely I would be to hand this to a ten or even a young thirteen year old. The one problem with things that are so beautiful that they hurt is that if you aren't in a position to appreciate the beauty, you are stuck with just the hurt. So this book has been lovingly placed on my top list of books, but I won't be handing it out to those looking for some fun escapism.
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