Twelve-year-old Miranda is the protagonist of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. She lives in New York City with her mother in 1979. The novel jumps around a bit, starting off when her mother wins a chance to appear on the game show The $20,000 Dollar Pyramid with host Dick Clark; this is a word-association game show where her mom has a chance to win $20,000, a prize she and Miranda could really use. They live in a run-down apartment and do not have much money. Miranda, however, is happy, and her best friend, Sal, lives in the same apartment complex as she does. They have been best friends for as long as she can remember.
Throughout the story, Miranda talks to a mysterious “you” who has asked her to write a letter about the events of the past several months. The entire novel is addressed to this person, who we learn has left Miranda several mysterious notes. Miranda backtracks to where she thinks the story she is supposed to write truly began, when she and Sal were walking home from school one day. They pass by a homeless man who has recently arrived to her street, who she calls the “laughing man” because he is always laughing. Most of the time, he is sleeping with his head underneath the mailbox and is totally harmless. Also, every day they are forced to pass by a group of rather rowdy teenage guys who hang out on the street. Thus far they have gotten by with the guys only making a few teasing comments; however, this day they see a new kid wearing a green army jacket. He peels away from the group of boys and walks directly over to Sal and punches him in the stomach and face, then walks away. Sal is shocked, hurt, and nearly sick after the beating, and it is all Miranda can do to help him home.
After this event, Sal starts to avoid Miranda. He does not wait for her to walk to school each day, avoids talking to her when he sees her, and does not respond to her inquiries to play or do things together. This behavior baffles and hurts Miranda. Sal has been her best friend for years, and life without him strange and lonely. At school, she reluctantly makes friends with a girl named Annemarie, and this helps ease her loneliness a bit.
At school, Miranda meets the kid who hit Sal on the street. She discovers that his name is Marcus and that he is actually a really nice guy. Marcus does not seem to remember Miranda, and they have interesting conversations about time travel based on Miranda’s obsession with the book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine...
(The entire section is 1019 words.)