Sixth-grader Miranda lives in 1978 New York City with her mother, and her life compass is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. When she receives a series of enigmatic notes that claim to want to save her life, she comes to believe that they are from someone who knows the future. Miranda spends considerable time observing a raving vagrant who her mother calls the laughing man and trying to find the connection between the notes and her everyday life.
Yeah, Amazon can't do it any better than I can.
The book starts out in what you might call 'the present.' Miranda's mom has just won the chance to appear on The $20,000 Pyramid, a popular '70s-'80s game show. But this isn't an ordinary book - it's a letter to someone, the mysterious 'you' who had been leaving strange notes for Miranda to find. Notes that can seem to predict the future.
From there, the book devolves into flashback mode to show what has happened since Miranda's mom won.
Yeah, I was pretty confused too.
That's the big negative I found about When You Reach Me - the timing. For the first twenty or thirty pages or so, I had no idea what was happening in the past and what was happening in Miranda's present. Rebecca Stead switched back and forth between the times. (A second reading would probably be helpful.)
Then, once Miranda gets firmly into flashback mode, the real story starts.
On the surface, it's about Miranda, her mom, her mom's German boyfriend, Richard (who is awesome, by the way), her once best friend Sal who started ignoring her after getting punched, her new friends Annemarie and Colin, and her rivalry with Julia, the school snob. Oh, and the old crazy man who stands by the road kicking at cars and occasionally shaking his fist at the sky - the laughing man. But, with the notes, it becomes something of a treatise on time travel.
It's an insanely hard book to sum up. I won't try. To say too much would be to ruin the effect. In my humble opinion, it wasn't even that well-written. But about halfway through, it started getting really, really hard to put down. So I didn't. And the ending was... well. It's the kind of ending you love and hate in equal measure. It wasn't breathtakingly exciting or amazing, but... then, it was. I don't know why, but - I'm baring my soul here - I loved it.
I'll just say this. Marcus is great. And I love that crazy old guy.
This isn't much of a review, I know, but it's a kind of a book that has to speak for itself. I'm positive it's not a book for everyone. It's probably not a book for hardcore time travel fans. But... well, if you find it, give it a try. It may or may not surprise you.