February is showtime and a bunch of us will be busy for the rest of the week talking to hundreds of school teachers at the Reading For the Love It Conference. Though I don't personally sell children's books, this is the time of the year when I'll devote some extra time to reading them - a delightful task that takes me back to my geeky, bookworm childhood and reminds me how magical reading can be.
And the one book I'll be pitching enthusiastically is Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. This was one of Lahring's top Dewey picks, it was the YA novel that kept coming up on the librarian "best reads of 2009" lists that we posted here in December, and it just won the Newbery Award. It completely deserves all those accolades. In preparation, I read for the first time Madeleine L'Engle's beloved novel A Wrinkle in Time which you certainly don't have to know to enjoy Stead's book, but it makes for a lovely duo of stories, and really, why deny yourself the pleasure? But what impresses me most about When You Reach Me is Stead's ability to pay due homage to a classic without lazily rewriting it; her story is completely original and stands on its own. The two simply share a fascination with time travel and its possible implications, and Miranda, the narrator of When You Reach Me, obsessively re-reads Wrinkle - her favourite book. The plot hinges on a series of strange notes predicting the future that Miranda finds in unexpected places, but the charm of the book rests in the completely normal and human misunderstandings that arise between Miranda and the group of grade six kids she hangs out with. As puzzling as the notes are, Miranda also can't figure out why her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped talking to her, or why she so dislikes a girl in her class, or why her mother dresses so strangely. But all is resolved, comically, happily and yet I had tears streaming down my cheeks by the end. I honestly don't know how Lahring and Rosalyn can read as many YA novels publicly on planes and trains as they do - happy or sad, when they are as well written as this one is, they turn into emotional wringers (in a good way).
When You Reach Me is a lovely, captivating slice of childhood and destined to become a classic in its own right; I hope it reaches as many readers - of all ages - as possible.