Friday, September 18, 2009

A Trio of Middle Grade Novels Part III

When You Read Me

by Rebecca Stead

Warning: if you haven't read the book, you should skip the section between the red lines

Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
(Consider yourselves warned)


When I described my time travel experience on my dentist's chair, I asked casually whether any of you would like to chime in and tell me what you thought of this book. I had no takers , so I'll start the conversation, and hopefully I can provoke some reaction from those of you who have read it. (MG? You said you've read it...)

Throughout the book, Miranda wonders about cryptic notes and missing shoes. I
kept trying to figure how the mysteries could be solved within the physical rules that govern our world--I thought the strong presence of A Wrinkle in Time was merely a motif--and kept coming up empty. When I found out that time travel was involved, I suddenly understood all the foreshadowing and clues, if you can call them that. Normally I'd feel cheated or annoyed when I find out a book sets out on a premise that it violates, but I didn't with this one. Thrown off, and disconcerted for a few minutes, yes, but then I went right back to reading.

Any of you had that feeling reading this book?

Now that the question is off my chest, I will move on on to other elements of the book.

Oh, one more thing: no, the resident 8-year old hasn't read it yet because she's still impressionable with a boundless imagination, and I worry the the time-travel issue may be disturbing, not in a scary-monster type of way, but in a "if that is possible, then whoa, what I know about my world can be all false and now I don't know what is real and what is not" kind of way. For older kids, the idea behind this book will be very cool and may open their eyes for all sorts of outlandish possibilities, but this mom to this particular MG reader is asking her child to wait. So sorry, folks, no professional opinions here!


No more spoiler beyond this point.

12-year old Miranda's best friend, Sal, doesn't want to spend time with her anymore, and she blames it on the punch Sal received from a boy on the street one day. More weird things happen: notes that don't make sense appear in her jacket and backpack; shoes and keys disappear. Bewildered and scared and sad, Miranda continues on with her life, helping her mom prepare for a TV quiz, getting an unpaid job at the sandwich place, and finding new friends.

A collection of unusual events and people: a poster on hiccups, a dentist office connected to the school, a new boy who talks about mind-bending stuff like time travel, a laughing man who kicks the air and yells at the street corner, two dollar bills, and a girl who peels off the cheese from her pizza come together in this quirky story.

Quirkiness can be great, or it can be grating. This one is the former. Maybe it's not just the quirkiness, but the underlying compassion of the book that makes me feel warm and tender and hopeful. The characters may have flaws or have made mistakes or seem reprehensible in some way, but the author paints each one with a quiet respect that helps readers see their own prejudices.

8-year old hasn't read it, but her mom really likes it.

1 comment:

MG Higgins said...

LOVED this book. I need to read it again, though, because I kept getting interrupted and I'd come back to it a couple days later and think, "Who is this character?" and it's really important to keep track of everything in this book--characters and plot. Excellent writing--Miranda is quirky and likable and I got such a clear picture of her home life and friends. I especially liked the handling of mom's boyfriend--he's warm and sympathetic and not the usual mean step-parent figure.