I’d heard it was about some time-traveling kids, so I was expecting light adventure fare, not an emotional undertow that takes you out to sea. In real life, I’ve shelved this next to The Westing Game.
Miranda is a kid in New York in the 1970’s. Public schools had kids from different economic backgrounds back then, and sixth graders were allowed to leave school grounds for lunch. It’s true that there are time travel shenanigans, but for the most part, time’s arrow moves only forward: Miranda is growing up.
Like The Hunger Games (where the outermost ring of the story is that readers will inevitably swoon over the love story instead of the social message), time travel in When You Reach Me reaches beyond the page. Miranda’s world — the walks up and down Amsterdam Ave., the lady at the corner store who lets Miranda help after school, the crazy sandwich shop guy, her friend’s yuppie parents, and her best best best friend who has mysteriously rejected her — is the real time travel. Stead folds space and time and takes us to old New York, and then she folds space and time and makes us twelve years old.
Which means Rebecca Stead has discovered the tesseract.