When we read something that really surprises us, it can shake us out of the three-dimensional, "vegetable universe" (as Blake called it- see below) and transform us, sometimes profoundly. A brilliantly constructed plot-twist can lead to such transcendence. When I first read A WRINKLE IN TIME at about age 10 or 11, I was blown away, and walked around for days adjusting to my altered reality. Madeline L’Engle presented time, space and the Great Mysteries (those ladies were stars!) in a way that caused me to see the world differently. It is still a pivotal book in my bibliography.
Which is why I immediately bonded with Miranda in WHEN YOU REACH ME, by Rebecca Stead. She carries a battered copy of AWIT around everywhere, and even got a first edition copy for Christmas. I bonded with Miranda for other reasons, and when I finished the story, felt about the same way as I did when I finished AWIT, and I’m more jaded than when I was 11, so that’s saying something.
I was so glad no one had spoiled the ending for me. I had even gone to hear Rebecca Stead at Books, Inc. here in San Francisco, before I had a chance to read her book. She did NOT spoil her own story, by the way, but sometimes kids asked questions that revealed a lot. I was the lady pacing in the back quietly singing “la la la la la,” with my fingers in my ears, when they did. It was worth it. The author manages with one of the most unexpected and painstakingly crafted plot-twists to hurl the reader far behind the veil.
So even though I’m contrary about jumping on band wagons, I must in the case of WHEN YOU REACH ME. It is an extraordinary book and deserves all the attention and accolades it has received.
I am often at least a little disappointed when I read books that have been hyped and buzzed, since I approach them with high expectations. Another book I read that has been widely touted and prized is GOING BOVINE. I was so not disappointed. It’s a large (metaphysically) and ambitious book that delighted me. OK, I would have trimmed a little, but the way Libba Bray creates her protagonist’s spot-on, sixteen year-old male reality and then expands and contracts it as she leads the reader deep into the irreal and absurd is funny, poignant, mind-bending and a journey definitely worth taking. The unexpected is working on all levels in Bray's book: language, character(s), humor--did I mention the absurd?--premise, and plot. Brava!