When You Reach Me *and* Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

whenyoureachmeliarandspyI happened to have two books by this author on my classroom shelves and had not read either of them yet, so I brought them home for Christmas vacation.  I have a tendency to buy way more books than I can possibly read, so a few make their way into the library before I have a chance to get at them first.  When I get back to school on Monday, I’ll be able to do a book commercial and see if I can get any “buyers” for these two selections.  I have a lot of responsibilities as a teacher, lots of things I have to juggle throughout the year, lots of things I am required to teach, lots of people to make happy, but I still know that the most important part of my job is giving books to kids and making them readers.

Personally, I just noted that I read 49 books in 2012, falling short of my goal of 60.  That’s okay.  Three of those books were super long, so I’m not worried about not making it for 2012.  I re-set the book counter and I’m already two books in for 2013!  One of those books was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  This book won the Newberry Award in 2010, and a bunch of other awards as well.  This story is about a sixth grader named Miranda.  She lives in New York with her single mom, back in the olden days of 1979 when I was a kid.  She has/had a best friend named Sal who lives downstairs, but this year something has changed and they have grown apart.  Miranda is figuring out the social system at school and deciding on her friendships and all of that sixth grade stuff.  She and her friends have the freedom to cruise around their neighborhood, but they are always sure to avoid the strange homeless guy on the corner.  They even get jobs during their school lunchtime since they are allowed to leave campus during their break, except for those days when a strange naked guy is out running in the street.  Her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time  (a book that I struggled with for years!), but it primarily has to do with time travel.  This is an important concept in When You Reach Me,  so open your brain to the possibilities when Marcus, another kid from school, starts talking to Miranda about it in detail.

Miranda begins receiving mysterious notes that make her feel like someone is stalking her.  The hidden key to their apartment goes missing and someone has been inside, but nothing appears to be missing.  The notes are oddly specific, but their meaning is a mystery.  It is clear that they have all been written ahead of time because they give her clues to events that will prove the notes to be true.  It’s as if they are being sent from the future.  Hmmm.  When the events all come together, they come together hard and fast!  Keep an open mind, relax and know that everything will be explained, and you will really enjoy this book!

The other book I read was called Liar and Spy.  In this one, a boy named Georges has moved into a new apartment building.  His father has lost his job, they had to sell their house in the neighborhood, and as a result his mom is working crazy hours around the clock as a nurse.  One day when he and his father are in the laundry room, they see a note on the bulletin board announcing a Spy Club meeting. This leads to an encounter with another kid in the building, named Safer. Safer is homeschooled and seems to spend a lot of his time watching the camera in the lobby, making notes on the neighbors, and observing the bird nest he can see from the window. Safer is obsessed with Mr. X, a mysterious man who also lives in the building.  Mr. X wears all black, never speaks, and is constantly moving suitcases in and out of his apartment.  Georges is being bullied at school on a daily basis, so he quickly gets sucked into Safer’s world of sneaking around and spying on Mr. X as a distraction from his real life. This is a quick read at only 180 pages, but it’s not until the last 15 that you fully understand what is happening and it feels like the rug is yanked out from underneath your feet!  Someone is a liar and someone is a spy, and somewhere in the middle is the truth.  This book felt really true, like these would be people you could actually know, and the character interactions were very real, especially their dialogue. One of my favorite details are the notes that Georges and his mother leave each other, spelled out in Scrabble tiles, as their main form of communication.  (Alternate cover art for the book has the title spelled out in Scrabble letters, but mine did not. Very cool though!)

So, to sum up: When You Reach Me is a funky, light science fiction book, that is unpredictable.  Read it if you think Prisoner of Azkaban was the best Harry Potter book!  Liar and Spy is a realistic fiction story, but is more than it seems on the surface.  Read it if you’ve been bullied, are a bully, or want to be a spy.  Both are books about friendship.  And hope.  I think both stories are definitely rooted in hope, which is a great way to start the new year!

When You Reach Me is level 4.5 and is worth 6 AR points.  Liar and Spy is leveled at 3.8 and is worth 5 points.