When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

★★★★★ (5/5)

“I’m an old man, and she’s gone now. So don’t worry, okay”

One of the most beautiful and heartrending children’s book I’ve had the pleasure and absolute honor to read. The story is reminiscent of Holes by Louis Sachar in regards to the various strands tying perfectly towards the end. The book read like a delightful mystery, all the while shedding light on life’s beauty through the lens of a middle grader who gets to experience friendships, separation, qualms about one’s identity and restoration of relationships. There are no villains, no anti-heroes but a layer of time travel that gives momentum to the premise in the most unusual and enchanting manner.

One of the most admirable traits of the story is (with due credit to the author) is that the readers’ understanding of the plot isn’t taken for granted. It’s a wonderful example of “show not tell”, especially for a story where the complexity is unwrapped only in the last few pages. There is a sense of congenial adventure running throughout the book. A poignant read through and through with nuanced meditations on death, vulnerability of life, loss, the past and what the future holds, “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead is perhaps one of the best reads for me of this year.

“Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any influence on our lives…In childhood, all books are books of divination, telling us the future.” – Graham Greene

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • “Latchkey child” is a name for a kid with keys who hangs out alone after school until a grown-up gets home to make dinner
  • And then I lay on her floor not sleeping because Sal wasn’t there to press his foot against mine.
  • If I’m afraid of someone on the street, I’ll turn to him (it’s always a boy) and say, “Excuse me, do you happen to know what time it is?” This is my way of saying to the person, “I see you as a friend, and there is no need to hurt me or take my stuff. Also, I don’t even have a watch and I am probably not worth mugging.”
  • My first memory of Julia is from second grade, when we made self-portraits in art. She complained there was no “café au lait”-colored construction paper for her skin, or “sixty-percent-cacao-chocolate” color for her eyes. I remember staring at her while these words came out of her mouth, and thinking, Your skin is light brown. Your eyes are dark brown. Why don’t you just use brown, you idiot? Jay Stringer didn’t complain about the paper, and neither did any of the other ten kids using brown. I didn’t complain about the stupid hot-pink color I’d been given. Did my skin look hot-pink to her?
  • Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way
  • Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don’t have to depend on the wind anymore.
  • I listened for Sal’s basketball. Hearing it made me feel better, for once. That sound was like the last thread connecting us
  • And then one day one human tells another human that he doesn’t want to walk to school with her anymore. “Does it really matter?” I asked myself. It did. I
  • Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean
  • Belle surprised me. “Well, it’s simple to love someone,” she said. “But it’s hard to know when you need to say it out loud.”

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