As Anna said in her last post, all of us here at the blog were awfully worried about Hurricane Sandy, but we were fortunate enough to have made it through the storm with power and without major damage (and of course our thoughts are with the folks further North who were not so lucky). But I did end up spending a couple of random days trapped in my apartment–an excellent opportunity to finish up some library books. Some of my reading was grown-up (Capital by John Lanchester, which was just fine), but I also raced through a sweet middle-reader book by Rebecca Stead called Liar and Spy.
This super-quick read was a charming story about a Brooklyn middle-school kid whose family is forced to sell their house and move to an apartment, and how he makes some friends and learns some lessons in the process. Like I said, sweet and charming, but I’m really talking about Liar and Spy so that I can tell everyone to go read Stead’s last book, When You Reach Me, which won her the Newbery Medal in 2010. It’s another middle-reader about New York City kids, but this one has a sci-fi twist and a major plot point turns on one of the characters reading Madeleine L’Engle classic children’s book A Wrinkle in Time.
Now, I have a particular soft spot for Madeleine L’Engle (I actually named my litter sister after her!), so this was an automatic hook for me. I’ve seen some criticism of When You Reach Me arguing that using L’Engle’s book makes it somehow less original, almost like fanfic. I think that A Wrinkle in Time is such a classic at this point, such a familiar institution to some many kids, that it’s a smart way to connect with readers. Particularly since the book is set in the 1970s–young readers might find some 70s elements strange, but A Wrinkle in Time might be familiar. As an older reader, I found it nostalgic. I also got completely sucked into trying to figure out the plot and worrying about the character–Stead takes things in a really interesting direction and uses the ideas in L’Engle’s book to tell a completely different kind of story.
As much as I love YA books, I usually find middle readers a little lightweight. Liar and Spy was lovely and I would happily recommend it to kids I know, but When You Reach Me was something else–clever and touching and powerful. It’s only going to last you an afternoon, but it’s well worth a library visit.
Can I tell you a guilty little secret? I was never able to get into any of L’Engele’s books, and whenever I admit that, people think less of me. I found them kind of convoluted and hard to follow, and that made me feel dumb. Maybe I’ll try When You Reach Me, though, and see if one degree away from A Wrinkle in Time helps me appreciate it more.
Heh. Don’t worry–my sister actually doesn’t like her stuff either!
I didn’t say this in the review, but Liar and Spy is very different in tone from A Wrinkle in Time or any of L’Engle’s stuff, so you might enjoy it more, since it doesn’t really feel like L’engle’s work.