When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, is one of those books that I heard rave reviews for but knew nothing--absolutely nothing--about. It was on my to-read list for a while before I realized it was a kids' book. I got it from the library and sat on it for a while, then started reading it when it was reviewed on things mean a lot, mostly because I like her reviews and wanted to understand what she was talking about.
I was thoroughly charmed by this book. It can be hard to describe, because there is a thread of mystery through the story that ends up being important for the climax, but mostly, this book is about a girl, Miranda, growing up in New York City in the '70s. The great thing is that it's really about all those things--it's about Miranda, who is smart and slightly odd (she reads all the time, but only A Wrinkle in Time), and has a single mother and not a lot of money. It's about growing up--losing friends and making new ones, figuring out how to be honest and fair, even when you don't really want to. And it's about New York, where some buildings have doormen and others don't, and you might live in a good neighborhood but you're still afraid of the big kids who hang around in front of the garage, or the crazy guy who sleeps with his head under the mailbox on your block.
Miranda's mother is a smart paralegal with a sweet boyfriend; I loved that her family was a solid, safe place for her in the story. Her neighbor, Sal, has been her best friend since childhood, but suddenly he doesn't want to talk to her anymore, and she's trying to figure out why. Her mother wants to be on the $20,000 Pyramid, and she and her new friends have a lunchtime job at a sandwich shop. It's an engaging, really lovely story about the small facts of her life.
But there's also a thread of mysteries--notes that show up in odd places, saying even stranger things. Miranda is confused at first, as she tries to figure out whether Wrinkle in Time-like time travel might have something to do with the odd things that are happening.
In the end, both the mystery/supernatural story and the personal story are based on the idea that cause and effect are all mixed up, and that all the parts of your life are tied together. Your old best friend and your new best friend and your new best friend's old best friend are all bound up in a web, in a community, and that's what makes up your life, and you can never know what will lead to the next thing. This was such a sweet story; I can't say I'll be thinking of it months from now, but it was a real pleasure to read.