Miranda lives with her mom in a New York City apartment. In sixth grade, she and her friend Sal, who lives below her, have earned their parents trust enough to navigate their neighborhood on their own. Together they learn to avoid the group of boys that hang out in front of the old garage and the mentally ill homeless man who habituates the corner by their homes.
That’s where When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead starts, but from there the narrative builds into a puzzle, where Miranda gets notes from someone who seems to know a lot about her and her friends. The notes ask her to write down a story, to be delivered at some point in the future. They say the story hasn’t happened yet, but she’ll know when it does.
Miranda can feel change in the air. Her first inkling of it was when her friend Sal got punched by a kid for an unknown reason, and then Sal started to withdraw from their friendship. Another clue was her budding friendship with Colin and Annemarie, who she starts to hang out with at lunch. The three of them work together at a local deli to earn sandwiches. Then Miranda gets to know Marcus, the kid who punched Sal. He’s older and really nice other than the punch, and he seems fascinated with the possibility of time travel, a topic that confuses her.
As the puzzle of the notes builds, Miranda learns a lot about making and keeping friends and speaking up when there’s a problem to be solved. It’s difficult to say too much about When You Reach Me without giving away the mystery of the notes, but I felt Miranda’s story reveals a lot about the tenacity of the human spirit, the tenderness of love, and the timelessness of friendship. This small book unfolds seamlessly while giving readers a lot to think about. By the end, you may find yourself rereading passages that contained clues along the way to get the full impact. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book club with girls ages 9 to 13.