Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Book Review Club - When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
Rebecca Stead

middle grade

I thought twice about reviewing this book. It's always hard when a piece wins an award to write a review about it. The prejudice that goes along with an award as weighty as the Newbery is that the book is phenomenal.

Only, I had some serious issues with it.

Of course, making such a statement requires serious justification, and let me say that I think the premise--time travel--and the writing are phenomenal. They are what kept me reading.

However, I had some serious problems with the fact that Stead rested her story so significantly on L'Engle's, A Wrinkle in Time. A professor of mine in grad school told us--as a way of more or less taking the burden off our shoulders of coming up with new ideas for term papers and later, our own research--that we should build upon the ideas already out there (upon the shoulders of giants), not think we have to come up with brand new ones. So, I'm all for building upon the idea of time travel that L'Engle entertained in A Wrinkle in Time, which also happens to be one of my all time favorite books.

What I had trouble with in Stead's piece was that she built the whole book around L'Engle's when she didn't really have to. She set the book in the 1970s, made the main character obsessed with L'Engle's book, kept referring to it and debating the time travel issue as L'Engle explained it in her piece. I'm not sure why. Stead took L'Engle's idea and reshaped, built onto it, like many many writers do, and made it something clever and new. So why the need to incorporate A Wrinkle in Time into the very thread of When You Reach Me? The end result was distracting and placed Stead's groundbreaking thoughts and concepts in the very long, very gigantic shadow of L'Engle's own work.

In the end, if you are looking for amazingly good stylistic writing with strong characters, this piece has them. A new idea on time travel? The book has that too. If only it didn't have such a long shadow interwoven within its very fabric.

For more amazing reads, see Barrie Summy's blog this week!


Barrie said...

Ah....I wondered what you were going to say. For whatever reason, i was less bothered than you by the amount of L'Engle in this book. The writing was incredible. As usual, I love your reviews, Stacy!

Thao said...

Thanks for the review. I've heard lots of things about this book. I'm really curious. Will definitely pick it up asap.

Sarah Laurence said...

Excellent review! I haven’t read this book, but I have heard about it. A friend knows the author. I was a big fan of L’Engle growing up in the 70’s. I can imagine the direct link would be overkill. I appreciate the critical nature of this review. I’ll have to take a peek at the book myself.

Ellen Booraem said...

Great review, Stacy. I didn't have the same problem you did, for a reason I hardly dare whisper: I tried to read the L'Engle book for as an adult, and couldn't get through it. I probably will try again sometime, but I found the religious content was bugging me. Very odd, since I've always loved the CS Lewis OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET trilogy, and religious content doesn't get more heavy-handed than that.

I loved WHEN YOU REACH ME, but if I were steeped in L'Engle I suspect I may have had the same problem you did. Now I guess I'll have to re-read both!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I haven't read A Wrinkle in Time either, so I wonder if this would bother me. You definitely make it sound intriguing...

Stacy Nyikos said...

I read Wrinkle as a child and then again last year. The religious angle was much more apparent to the adult in me, although, I have to say, I went to a Catholic grade school, so I may have been immune to any more religion in my daily dosage then. I can see how if one hadn't read Wrinkle and been as impressed by it as a child that perhaps the effect in When You Reach Me could be mollified, but still, I wish she had done more with less.