When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me“M,

This is hard.  Harder than I expected, even with your help.  But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well.  I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I ask two favors.

First, you must write me a letter.

Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key.

The trip is a difficult one.  I will not be myself when I reach you.”

Miranda isn’t supposed to tell anyone about the mysterious notes.  She’s not sure who she would tell, anyway: her mom would freak out, and her best friend Sal is avoiding her ever  since he got punched on the way home from school.   Miranda keeps quiet, and the notes keep coming.  Each is filled with details no one should know, and the message is clear:  she’s the only one who can prevent a tragedy, and she’s got to move quickly.

The list of awards this book has gotten literally fills the inside cover, including the Newbery Medal, and for good reason! This smart book is a perfect combination of realistic characters, a just-creepy-enough mystery with a great setting, and  accessible science fiction (which I can’t explain to you, because it will ruin the mystery). I really loved the setting: late-70s New York.  The period-specific details were just enough to make it feel interesting and different, but not overly nostalgic.  Finally, Miranda’s first-person-narrative voice draws readers in, making them feel like a close friend of hers, and a partner in the mystery-solving.  It was also quite refreshing to explore Rebecca Stead’s portrayals  nontraditional families, and the treatment of race and class issues in the text.  All in all, a great book for sharing. I’d like to read it with some middle schoolers and see who can figure out the letter-sender first.  Happy Reading!

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me.  Yearling: New York, 197 pp.  Ages 10-14.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll love Blue Balliet’s stories, especially her Chasing Vermeer series and The Danger Box.  If you liked the mystery element and stories about families, you will definitely love Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck.   Finally, see what the fuss is all about: check out Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  You’ll get why Miranda loves it so much!

Best Bits:  letters that keep you guessing + science fiction that isn’t confusing + being a mystery that is not full of vampires, blood, or magic, because let’s face it, that gets old sometimes.

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Totally Joe by James Howe

“Ok, fine, I’m not a boy like them, but I’m still a boy.  The thing is, boys-by which I mean guy-guys like my brother Jeff-have always been a total mystery to me. I mean, how do they know how to do all that stuff, like throw and catch and grease car engines? Besides the fact that I don’t have a clue how to do any of those things, on a scale of 1-10, I have, like, below zero interest. Way below.  Try negative a thousand.”

Joe’s writing his alphabiography for a school assignment.  It’s a story of his life with a section for each letter of the alphabet, starting with A, for Addie, his best friend, through Z, for Zachary, the boy that might someday become his boyfriend.  His alphabiography is almost like a journal: he talks about his crushes, about his family, how it feels to be bullied.  He’s a great cook, is horrified by the thought of kissing, and favors loud Hawaiian print shirts.  He has a boyfriend, Colin, who is just not quite ready to come out of the closet yet, and there are some guy-guys who’ve been picking on him, but Joe strives to be positive.

I usually end up reading more high school level books, and this is written for the younger crowd, so it was a refreshing change.  Actually, refreshing is the perfect word for Joe, himself.  He’s optimistic, self-confident, and his indomitable spirit permeates the book.  I love his language: creative, casual, and approachable.  His character comes off as so earnest and friendly, that you want him to be real. Furthermore, James Howe has done a wonderful job handling the bullying issue without allowing the novel to be consumed by it.  The result is a light, pleasant, and encouraging read.  I think you’re going to like it!

For the record, James Howe is the author of my much-beloved Bunnicula series!

Happy reading!

Howe, James. Totally Joe. Athenum Books: New York, 2005.  189 pp. Ages 10 and up.

Publisher’s website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/James-Howe/20539048

This is the companion book to The Misfits, so that is a great place to start if this sounds like a good book.  However, I read Totally Joe first, and it was just fine on its own!  Also, look for Addie on the Inside, coming out soon!

 

 

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

“Was everyone playing a trick on me? Of course numbers had colors.  Were they also going to tell me that letters and sounds didn’t have colors? That the letter a wasn’t yellow like a faded sunflower and screeching chalk didn’t make red jagged lines in the air?”

Mia sees the world differently than most people.  She has a rare condition called synesthesia, which is a disorder that involves the brain’s processing of sensory information.  For Mia, letters, words, numbers, and some sounds have their own colors.  For example, her name is candy-apple red with a touch of avocado green.  However, after the episode in the quote, where she realizes that her other classmates don’t see the colors that she does, she keeps her condition a secret, even from her parents.

Aside from her condition, Mia lives the life of an ordinary thirteen-year-old.  She loves her cat, Mango, and spends a lot of time squabbling with her siblings.  She forgets homework assignments and disagrees with her friends.  She worries about fitting in.  Through all of this, she deals with algebra problems that don’t make sense and bad Spanish grades.  It’s pretty typical stuff, just with extra colors.  I especially enjoyed her experiences with acupuncture (it really intensified her synesthesia) and her developing relationship with Roger.

Spoiler alert:  Mango dies near the end of the novel, and a lot of space is devoted to how she processes grief.   Because of her extreme sadness, she temporarily loses her synesthesia.  I was more emotional than I thought I’d be when I read that part, and anyone who has ever lost a pet will understand.

This is a calm story about a girl with an interesting condition.  It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s very pleasant.  Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.wendymass.com/

Mass, Wendy.  A Mango-Shaped Space. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2003. 224 pp. Grades 5-8.