Late to the party: WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

What kept me from reading Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME was the idea that it was a “puzzle” book. I’m all for mysteries, but for some reason the idea of a MG book with a puzzle seemed a little gimmicky.

That was nuts.

I’m so mad I waited to read this novel. It came out in 2009! I’ve missed out on four whole years of living with this story. Furious.

when-you-reach-me

WYRM has the most sincere, full voice I think I’ve ever read in a book. Not just a Middle Grade book – a book. The main character, Miranda, is pitch perfect eleven. She struggles with and against her friends, her neighborhood, and herself. There’s magic in the pages, but it is sneaky magic that toes the line between imagination, and the real possibility of no-kidding wizardry.

Yes, it’s clever and there’s an large aspect of intrigue.  But what that really moved me – made me stop, flip back and re-read- was the way that the main character, Miranda, experienced her own meanness.

You love Miranda. She is epically relatable, but she’s also thirteen. She is not a bully by any means, but meanness lives in sixth grade like the vague smell of old sandwiches in a coatroom. Everyone experiences it at least a little, on one end or the other. Or both.

There’s this girl named Alice and she always has to pee. She’s too shy to ask to go to the bathroom so it always becomes an emergency situation. She’s introduced in the beginning and her character quirk is fun and funny – just another part of the world Miranda experiences. But at one point, during a school band concert, it dawns on our main character that she can be Alice’s bathroom buddy. She can be nice. Simple, and world-changing .

“Sometimes you never feel meaner than the moment you stop being mean. It’s like how turning on a light makes you realize how dark the room had gotten. And the way you usually act, the things you would have normally done, are like these ghosts that everyone can see but pretends not to.”
Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me

 

I mean….right? Right? Yikes.

I love this book. I love this book. I love this book.

I almost handed it to the twelve-year-old parking attendant who waved us into the Marshfield Fair this weekend because I feel like everyone (especially twelve year old girls) should read it.

Oh, books. BOOKS.

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I need to love the view

Driving this morning, I had an excellent idea for a book. I got a little chill of excitement because it’s original and it’s rich. At home, I scribbled a few paragraphs outlining the main points. There was already a narrative arc and some complexity. I could really see it coming to life.

But I don’t want to write it. Strange. Kind of like I designed this bikini that’s gorgeous, but no way am I wearing a bikini. It’s not me. Also, I own mirrors. And they work.

I don’t even know if I’d want to read this book that I don’t want to write. Some people would. In fact, if done well, with the right research, it could be an important story to tell, in a unique voice that should be heard.

But it is dark subject matter, and this is a bummer because I know me. I need to actively pursue positive stories at this particular point in my emotional life. I wasn’t always so feelings-flimsy. For example, in high school I wrote two plays: One about homelessness and one about the Holocaust (total life of the party). And I used to listen to Jeff Buckley as getting-ready-to-go-out music. Now it just makes me cry cry cry.

For me, sobering content has been replaced by the fun-scares of ghost stories and Jeff Buckley has been unseated by Justin Timberlake (not that you’re vapid JT – I feel you on Holy Grail).

These days the news I read on the internet is enough to send me hiding under my desk for hours. I’m easily overwhelmed with the bad stuff. I get sad in a deep way when I read about the stuff that’s happening in Russia, for example. I can’t shake it. It’s the world we live in and I’ll sign all the internet petitions, but at the end of the day it’s so easy to feel useless and small and quite, quite down.

So, this book idea. I started doing preliminary research and was immediately plummeting into stomach churning territory. Sad stories about bad things happening to people who don’t deserve them. Can’t do it. I know that is weak, but it’s just true.

As a writer there are a million choices you make in the process of a project, but one important one is – do I love the view from here? Do I want to live here for a while?

If the answer is no, for me, I can’t go ahead and pursue it. Even if it shines a little. No bikinis for me, at least until I drop the baby weight for good.