Literary Criticism and Significance
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was published in 2009 and was met with positive reviews and critical praise, winning the Newbery Medal of Honor in 2010. It spans many genres—science fiction, mystery, historical fiction, friend story, and intense drama—and is a favorite for many different types of readers. Critics loved Stead’s mature, thoughtful, and realistic treatment of the concept of time travel. Time-travel books tend to be cheesy, with “rock-em, sock-em action,” but Stead’s depiction was sobering and believable and prompts the reader to ponder the implications of such theories. She was praised for her “positively svelte” depiction in a world of “supersized children’s books.” One review noted, despite its quiet subtlety, “don’t be deceived: In this taut novel, every word, every sentence, has meaning and substance.” Her depiction of the events at the end are “startling and satisfying but quietly made,” prompting readers to ponder not only time travel but also “life, death and the beauty of it all.” It puts the science of time travel in simple, understandable terms and uses it as a thread to tie together the larger themes of friendship, family, and the repercussions of our actions.
Of particular praise was Stead’s intriguing mystery; she places well-paced clues throughout the story, making it “pretty much impossible to stop reading until the last page.” As readers encounter each clue, they will be left “chewing over details,” trying to piece together the “mind-blowing” action at the end, all the while “pondering the provocative,” deeper questions about life that are presented. Stead draws readers in from the very beginning as she drops the first clue. From that moment on, the reader strives to put the clues together, and once finished with the book, they are given “plenty of impetus... to go back to the beginning and catch what was missed.” Trying to figure out the mystery provides plenty of “mental gymnastics” to keep the reader pushing ahead, and the strength of the characters in the novel make the journey an enjoyable and fulfilling one. The scattered timeline might be a bit challenging but well worth figuring out to grasp the larger storyline.
The novel is marketed to young adolescents, but When You Reach Me can be enjoyed by all ages; its mystery, sincerity, heartfelt characters, and message of hope are highlights of the novel appealing to all readers.