When You Reach Me Rebecca SteadThe 1978-1979 school year is perfectly normal for Miranda. Except that her best friend stopped speaking to her, there’s an apparently crazy man who sleeps with his head under the mailbox on her corner, a naked man is seen running by her school on several occasions, and weird things keep happening. Like her spare house key goes missing and three days later she finds a note asking her to write a letter in which she mentions the location of her spare house key.

When You Reach Me is very good. The writing is excellent and the eye for detail is amazing. The mystery aspects, mysterious and mundane—what’s the deal with the strange notes Mira gets? Why did Marcus punch Sal? What’s up with Annemarie and Julia?—are dealt with well, with excellent pacing and delicacy. It doesn’t just balance the ordinary life and the time travel elements; it melds them. I found the discourse on time-travel a bit tedious, especially as Mira was stubbornly not getting it, though it did serve to establish how time travel works in this narrative.

This was almost a one-sitting book for me. It wasn’t, partly because airplane turbulence plus fasting (it was Yom Kippur) does not equal happy reading time, and partly because I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to be done with it. That said, had there not been jostling to disrupt my reading, I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull myself out of the book and pace myself.

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When You Reach Me ~ Rebecca Stead ~ Rebecca Stead’s Blog

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Firestorm Caretaker Trilogy David KlassJack Danielson has lived an ordinary life – pointedly so, in fact; his father reins him in every time he risks getting grades too good, winning sports too much, or otherwise calling attention to himself. When he ignores his father’s well-meant advice and breaks a league record in football, he’s suddenly on the run, with a telepathic dog for company. A few mysterious and dangerous women pop in from time to time, plus some monsters and visions, as Jack slowly learns that he has to save the Earth from humans before we completely destroy the environment.

It begins: “Halloween week in Hadley-by-Hudson. Senior year of high school. Nine in the evening. Had enough sentence fragments? My English teacher said they are a weakness of mine.”¹

I’ve got to agree with his English teacher: they are annoying. As is his habit of saying “Look that one up in the dictionary, my friend”² every time he uses a word of four syllables of more. He clearly thinks this highlights his vocabulary and extensive SAT prep; really, it would be more impressive if he wasn’t saying, basically, “I learned this word special!” Plus, it makes him come off as a pompous asshole. Which is pretty accurate, but did create some extra distance between me and the book. I cared about Jack’s mission; I neither liked nor cared about Jack.

Obnoxious narrator aside, it’s a pretty good book. A lot happens, but everything gets enough time. Similarly, it’s the first in a planned trilogy; the ending leaves no doubt that there’s more to come, but it isn’t a jarring stop. The environmentalism is dealt with well; it shows the damage we’re doing to the Earth, rather than preaching. It also recognizes that most people are not willfully contributing to the damage, but do accept the status quo without asking difficult questions. Personally, between Firestorm and Mark Bittman’s recent article on finding fish one can buy ethically,³ I’m rather glad to be vegetarian. Makes life simpler.

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¹p. 3
²p. 4; variations abound throughout the text.
³conveniently published the day after I finished Firestorm. Clearly, the universe really wants me to get this point.

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Firestorm ~ David Klass (Wikipedia)

Peter’s mad at his dad. Kate’s annoyed that she has to spend part of her weekend with Peter, but she wants to show off, so she has her dad take the two of them to his laboratory to look at Nifty Science Machines. An accident happens, and off they are whisked to 1769. There, they are unusually bad at resisting the time-traveler’s urge to talk about the future, meet some amazingly kind and generous people, and, of course, meet a few villains.

It lost points early on for improper description of the effects of a Van de Graaf generator. And even if one ignores the bad science – and I have a problem doing that – it just never rises above being an okay book. While it’s purportedly about Peter and Kate, Kate really falls to the background, and it’s not just because eighteenth century skirts make it hard to chase highwaymen and the like. In many small ways, I felt that gender stereotypes were being reinforced – girls cry easily, have weak stomachs, and are closer to anything emotional/spiritual/metaphysical. Kate expresses frustration about her skirts and about Peter’s thoughtlessness when he doesn’t question eighteenth-century gender roles, but the smaller, more insidious things slip frustratingly past.

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Gideon the Cutpurse