Friday, August 13, 2010

"Try not to land in the brocolli"

I had always imagined that I grew up in the suburbs. Several years ago my cousin Robert said the same thing but that he'd since realized our neighborhood - which was only a couple of miles from downtown Salt Lake City - was really a city neighborhood (and now that I live in the suburbs of Los Angeles I have a very different perspective on what "suburbs" are). But it certainly didn't feel like the "city" back then - I related more to the Brady Bunch kids than I did with Bill Cosby's Fat Albert and his gang. So, for a kid like me who grew up in the wide open kid-friendly neighborhoods of a small western city, big cities like New York always seemed like strange and almost exotic places to live. Instead of having a backyard to play in, kids had vacant lots. Instead of living in houses, they lived in apartments which they sometimes called "flats." Instead of riding bikes everywhere for miles, they rode buses. And I imagine riding bikes or even buses to the "edge" or "outskirts" of town (like we did) wasn't much of an option.

When You Reach MeAt least that was my impression of life in a big East coast city - an impression I got from the books I read as a kid. And there seemed to be plenty of books about kids living in New York because... well, I guess there are a lot of writers living in New York. So when I started When You Reach Me I was initially put off by the world-wise perspective of Miranda, which seems so typical of kids in books that take place in New York City. But the mystery of who is sending her notes and *why* drew me in completely.

Miranda and her friend Sal walk to and from school together, just as they always have. But everything changes when the big kid in the green army jacket steps out in front of them and punches Sal. After that, he doesn't seem to want to spend time with her anymore. But that's when the notes start showing up - anonymous notes telling Miranda to write down a story of everything that happens, with as much detail as possible. With any luck, the note writer says, lives will be saved.

I thought the darkly-tinged urban setting with a background of late-70s TV game shows and Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time was very clever, and the characters are engaging if not always entirely likeable. It's the kind of mystery story that kids and their parents will enjoy, although parents may want to know that there are a few mild profanities scattered throughout. I listened to the audio book read by Cynthia Holloway, who does a very good job, but I enjoyed it so much I bought it for my kids (Kate's already read it, which didn't take long). It'll probably appeal most to kids 4th grade thru 8th.

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