When You Reach Me Summary

Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me

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When You Reach Me Summary

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When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a novel about time travel, aspirations, and friendship. The story opens with the protagonist, Miranda, who begins to receive notes from an unknown sender. She finds the notes mysteriously hidden among her belongings. Initially, their presence frightens her, but that fear soon turns to curiosity as she seeks to find out not only who is sending her the notes, but why. For Miranda, When You Reach Me is a story about coming of age. Miranda, a middle-school student when the book begins, and Sal have been best friends for as long as Miranda can remember. She and her mother live in the same building as Sal. One day, their friendship is brought to an abrupt end when Sal runs home to tell Miranda they can’t spend time together anymore. This declaration follows an assault in which a bully punches Sal while walking home.

Meanwhile, Annemarie, a girl in Miranda’s class, also stops being friendly with her best friend, Julia. Because they’re without their usual companions, Miranda invites Annemarie to sit with her at lunch, and before long, the two girls are as thick as thieves. They spend each afternoon together after school. Miranda’s mom aspires to become a contestant on a gameshow called “The $20,000 Pyramid.” Each night, Miranda and Richard help her practice for the gameshow, and one day soon, a postcard arrives stating that she will be a contestant on an upcoming show in April. Sometimes, Miranda and Annemarie have lunch with another student, Colin. He decides that the three of them need to get jobs working at a local sandwich shop, so he talks the owner of the shop into hiring all of them to work during their lunch. As payment for their hour each day, the shop owner gives them each a soda and a sandwich containing cheese and vegetables. At the shop, there’s a ceramic bank that the shop owner told them not to touch. However, Colin’s curiosity gets the best of him, and he looks inside to find two-dollar bills, all folded into triangles. While Annemarie is scared the shop owner will catch them peeking, Colin thinks the triangle-shaped money is humorous. Despite the fact that she’s told several times by the shop owner not to visit the sandwich shop, Julia frequents the place and eventually asks for a job. She’s not hired, and Miranda is happy about this because she doesn’t like Julia. Later though, Miranda finds out that the shop owner didn’t hire Julia because she’s black, and Miranda begins to reconsider her own opinions about the other girl. One day, Miranda returns home from school to find the apartment door open. She’s scared at first, but when she looks around and sees that nothing was stolen, she figures that her mom must have simply forgotten to lock the door. Later that day, Miranda discovers the first note in one of her books. She tells her mom about it, so they check on the spare key they keep in the fire hose on the wall down the corridor from their apartment. The key is missing. Another note later turns up in a bag of buns Miranda is counting for work. She finds a third note in her jacket pocket. The notes request that Miranda write a story—but she’s preoccupied by wondering who sent the notes to her. Specifically, the notes ask her to write down future events and where the spare key to her apartment is located. One day, the ceramic bank goes missing from the sandwich shop, so the owner fires Colin, Annemarie, and Miranda. At first, they try to apologize to retain their jobs, but after thinking about the owner’s prejudice against black people, they change their minds and don’t want to work there anymore. On her way home from school, Miranda sees Sal with the bully who punched him on the day he told her they could no longer be friends. The bully tries to apologize to Sal, who gets scared and runs away. Sal runs into the street, in front of a truck, but right before the truck can run him over, he’s saved by a homeless man. The man had been living outside of Miranda’s and Sal’s building. Miranda finds a fourth mystery note in that man’s shoe, which was stolen from her own apartment. She connects the dots and discovers that the homeless man is the author of the notes—and also a time traveler—whose mind has been changed by his travels. When You Reach Me was published in 2009. The book won the Newbery Medal. In a 2012 survey published by School Library Journal, Stead’s novel was ranked number 11 among the all-time best children’s novels. It was the only book published in the 21st century to rank in the top 20 of that list. In addition to the Newbery Medal, When You Reach Me earned Stead the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, along with nominations for the Indian Paintbrush Book Award and the Andre Norton Award.