My first reaction on completing this book was awe. It's not easy to pull off sci-fi for middle grade readers – at least, not that they can read to themselves; the potential for confusion in the face of complicated story lines and leaps of readerly faith seems extremely high. And in retrospect, I think what makes When You Reach Me so successful is the fact that it actually doesn't come off as sci-fi at all for most of its chapters. Rather, it's an engaging tale with a vividly (and tenderly) rendered heroine that has a lot of the trappings of a mystery.
Ada read it first, in fits and starts because certain parts she found so "creepy" she wasn't sure she could go on (I remember having that same reaction at her age, reading Hardy Boys mysteries at bedtime: shutting a book in terror and vowing never to pick it up again; re-poening it minutes later; shutting it; opening it; and finally, triumphantly, making my way to the dénouement). But go on she did. Toward the end she could be heard muttering across the apartment: "Oooooh, that makes sense now. I get it, I get it, it's all coming together!" And when I finished it, I had the same delighted reaction.
When I realized this morning that I'd managed to pick a book this week that hadn't been written over 40 years ago, I was mightily pleased with myself. Until I realized, it takes place in the '70s, on the Upper West Side. So my quest to choose a thoroughly contemporary, non-urban middle grade novel that both Ada and I love remains unfulfilled. Not that I care, if you don't.