Shelved: Children’s fiction (contemporary, mystery)
Published: 6th January 2011 (US) 1st September 2011 (UK)
Publisher: Yearling (US) Andersen Press (UK)
I first came across Rebecca Stead in Foyles, Charing Cross. It’s one of my favourite bookshops and the perfect place for a book blogger meet up, so I’m there a lot. When You Reach Me is always shelved as a staff recommendation and I pick it up every time I visit. I could tell it was a children’s – or, middle grade – novel, but not at all what it was about; I thought the cover was fairly ambiguous. As I want to read more middle grade this year, I decided to finally read it. Am I happy that I picked it up? Oh yes. When You Reach Me is masterful storytelling – a mix of contemporary, mystery and science fiction. Rebecca Stead is a wonderful storyteller, drawing us into the ordinary lives of extraordinary children.
Miranda is a smart young girl. She knows that it isn’t going to be easy for her mother to win the jackpot when she appears as a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, so she’s just going to have to help her. And Miranda’s best friend Sal got punched unexpectedly in the street by a group of boys, and he hasn’t spoken to her since. When You Reach Me is about the aftermath, and how Miranda is trying to make sense of her life. Rebecca Stead doesn’t resort to merely ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’ headings, no. She’s honest, lyrical and original, so her chapters are called ‘It’s About Things You Wish For’, ‘Things That Burn’ and ‘Things That Make No Sense’. Miranda’s life is altered the day that Sal is injured, but she only really becomes conscious of it when she receives a curious note: ‘I am coming to save your friend’s life, you must write me a letter. Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key’.
When You Reach Me is a letter to this mysterious stranger, enjoyable as it is eerie. As a reader, you sometimes feel suspended, as if you’re watching Miranda’s life like the stranger who has written to her, and sometimes you feel as if you are Miranda, trying to make sense of the puzzle in front of her. When You Reach Me is a brilliantly written, inventive novel – and I was extremely wrong about the cover.
‘How old is she?’ ‘Twelve’. The truth is that my book doesn’t say how old Meg is, but I am twelve, so she feels twelve to me.
As soon as I finished When You Reach Me, I couldn’t wait to start Liar & Spy; I knew it was going to be fantastic. But what I didn’t know was that Rebecca Stead has a specific writing style. A quote on the back of the book, from the Guardian, says ‘Rebecca Stead makes writing this well look easy’ and I have to echo this. Liar & Spy is so incredibly sophisticated and smart – heartfelt and moving, but still incredibly enjoyable. Liar & Spy has a wonderful host of characters that Rebecca Stead imagines brilliantly and realistically.
Georges’s (silent ‘s’) life has changed: his dad has lost his job, his mum is working all the time, and they had to leave their beloved house and move into a smaller apartment. But life starts to get a little better when he meets Safer, a boy his age who runs a spy club in the same building. Yet Liar & Spy isn’t all about the hardship that Georges goes through. It tackles serious issues, yes, but it’s also so much fun. I wanted to hang out with Candy, one of the most awesome little girls I’ve come across; I wanted to see the next message that would be written using Scrabble pieces; and I wanted to know if we’d ever find out more about the mysterious Mr X, who Georges and Safer are spying on, determined to find out why his visitors never seem to leave… And I cannot leave out endearing Bob English Who Draws, who is the only kid at school who doesn’t feel like it’s necessary to tease Georges, also known as ‘Gorgeous’.
In young adult literature, parents are often absent, but middle grade fiction allows them to be a part of their children’s lives. I adored Georges’s dad: fun and quirky and who, instead of shaking his head at the silliness that children get up to, believes that there really is a spy club in the basement, when he sees the note written on the laundry room board. Liar & Spy is another superbly written, original and moving novel from Rebecca Stead, who has become one of my favourite middle grade authors, and Liar & Spy is my favourite so far. I cannot wait until her next book!
Mom. She always says to look at the big picture. How all of the little things don’t matter in the long run. I know that Mom is right about the big picture. But Dad is right too: Life is really just a bunch of nows, one after the other. The dots matter.