84 pages 2 hours read

Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

When You Reach Me (2009) is a middle-grade novel by Rebecca Stead. It won the Newbery Medal and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction and has been included in numerous best book lists for young adult readers. This summary is based on the 2019 Yearling 10th Anniversary Edition.

The story follows the adventures of Miranda Sinclair, a 12-year-old female protagonist who tries to solve the mystery of who might be coming to save her best friend’s life. Themes of time travel and coming of age converge as Miranda solves the mystery and grows into a more comfortable and confident version of herself.

Plot Summary

Chapter 1 takes place three weeks before April 27, 1979, in New York City, where Dick Clark’s hit game show The $20,000 Pyramid is filmed. Miranda Sinclair, the narrator, explains that her mother has been selected as a contestant for the show. Miranda isn’t entirely surprised, though, because she received a mysterious note months before warning her that April 27 would be a significant date.

Miranda has been receiving mysterious notes from an unknown writer for some time. These cryptic notes indicate that the writer is trying to help save the life of Miranda’s best friend. Miranda’s narrative takes readers back to the beginning of the school year as she explains the events leading to her friend Sal’s life being saved.

At the beginning of the school year, Miranda’s best friend Sal begins pulling away from her. After Marcus, a local boy from their school, punches Sal in the street, Sal stops spending time with Miranda completely. Miranda is confused and saddened, so she begins spending time with Annemarie, another girl from school. She also takes on an unpaid job at the local sandwich shop where she spends time with Annemarie and Colin, a boy she begins to have a crush on as the story progresses.

Miranda receives the first mysterious note in the fall. The unknown writer addresses Miranda as simply M and asks her to write a letter. The second note arrives later in the fall. This letter is tucked away in a bag of bread in the sandwich shop where Miranda works, and it addresses Miranda by name. She discovers a third note tucked into her pocket in December. Miranda becomes convinced that the mysterious letter writer can see the future, but she doesn’t understand how this can be possible.

When school returns from winter break, Miranda is determined to show a new, more outwardly friendly side of herself. She tries to help classmates and extends a peace offering to Julia, a classmate she has resented for much of middle school. However, Miranda’s friendship with Sal is not repaired, and she watches from a distance as he builds friendships with other kids instead.

As Sal is walking home from school one day, he sees Marcus again and sprints away. Marcus chases after Sal, and Sal runs into the street. A homeless man known to the kids as the laughing man rushes into the street and kicks Sal out of the way of an oncoming truck. He saves Sal’s life but is hit by the truck himself and killed. Miranda rushes to the scene and finds a final note in the shoe the homeless man was wearing, telling her that this is the story she needs to write in her letter. Miranda realizes that the laughing man has been the one leaving notes for her. Miranda puts off writing the letter.

The plot reaches April again and Miranda’s mother makes her appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid show. During a moment of revelation, Miranda comes to understand that Marcus and the laughing man are the same person. Marcus will grow up to be the laughing man and will return from the future to push Sal to safety. This realization convinces Miranda to finally write the letter to Marcus telling him what has happened and what is to come. She knows that when she delivers her letter, Marcus will know what to do.

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