“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious,” said Albert Einstein, and that’s exactly what 12-year-old Miranda has. In fact, her whole story is a mystery. Readers know from page one that Miranda is telling this story to someone in particular. She narrates the story and stops every now and then to address the unknown person: “Just like you said” or “You asked me to mention the key.” Then there’s Sal, Miranda’s best friend—only friend, actually—who is hit in the stomach and face on the way home from school one day, and that ends their friendship, but we don’t know why that should be. And Miranda begins finding mysterious notes that say things like, “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own” and “The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.” The notes indicate that she is being watched and that whoever is writing them knows about things before they happen.
The book’s cover gathers some of the clues: a key, a shoe, a two dollar bill, a mailbox with a person’s shadow extending from it (but there’s no person), a green coat, a book, a sack of bread. All of these things play into the story, though readers will just have to keep reading if they don’t understand everything right away. They can trust Rebecca Stead’s masterful plotting. She sprinkles clues, and readers must collect them along the way, as Miranda does.
In the midst of all the mysteriousness is an expertly crafted realistic story perfect for intermediate readers. The setting—New York City’s Upper West Side in 1979—is well drawn, and Miranda’s mother lets her navigate the streets of her neighborhood, teaching her to avoid those older boys hanging out and that mysterious laughing man always saying crazy things.
What could be better: a great setting, believable characters and a mystery deftly woven by a fine writer. This is a book to be reckoned with come Newbery season.
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.
Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
Sixth grader Miranda's life is an ordinary round of family and school. But when she starts receiving anonymous notes that seem to foretell the future, it's clear that all is not as it seems. The story's revelations are startling and satisfying but quietly made. Their reverberations give plenty of impetus for readers to go back and catch what was missed. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #4
The first real indication that this book is going to get deeply, seductively weird is when broody classmate Marcus engages the heroine, Miranda, in a discussion about a flaw in the logic of A Wrinkle in Time: "So if they had gotten home five minutes before they left, like those ladies promised they would, then they would have seen themselves get back. Before they left." Miranda's life is an ordinary round of family and school, the first characterized by a pretty strong relationship with her mother and Mom's good-guy boyfriend, the second by ever-shifting (and perceptively limned) alliances in her sixth-grade class. But when her best friend is bizarrely punched by another boy on the street, and when she starts receiving anonymous notes that seem to foretell the future, it's clear that all is not as it seems. The mystery provides a thread that manages, just, to keep the plot's several elements together, and the closely observed relationships among the characters make the mystery matter. Closing revelations are startling and satisfying but quietly made, their reverberations giving plenty of impetus for the reader to go back to the beginning and catch what was missed. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 June #1
When Miranda's best friend Sal gets punched by a strange kid, he abruptly stops speaking to her; then oddly prescient letters start arriving. They ask for her help, saying, "I'm coming to save your friend's life, and my own." Readers will immediately connect with Miranda's fluid first-person narration, a mix of Manhattan street smarts and pre-teen innocence. She addresses the letter writer and recounts the weird events of her sixth-grade year, hoping to make sense of the crumpled notes. Miranda's crystalline picture of her urban landscape will resonate with city teens and intrigue suburban kids. As the letters keep coming, Miranda clings to her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, and discusses time travel with Marcus, the nice, nerdy boy who punched Sal. Keen readers will notice Stead toying with time from the start, as Miranda writes in the present about past events that will determine her future. Some might guess at the baffling, heart-pounding conclusion, but when all the sidewalk characters from Miranda's Manhattan world converge amid mind-blowing revelations and cunning details, teen readers will circle back to the beginning and say, "Wow...cool." (Fiction. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 June #4
Twelve-year-old Miranda, a latchkey kid whose single mother is a law school dropout, narrates this complex novel, a work of science fiction grounded in the nitty-gritty of Manhattan life in the late 1970s. Miranda's story is set in motion by the appearance of cryptic notes that suggest that someone is watching her and that they know things about her life that have not yet happened. She's especially freaked out by one that reads: "I'm coming to save your friend's life, and my own." Over the course of her sixth-grade year, Miranda details three distinct plot threads: her mother's upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid; the sudden rupture of Miranda's lifelong friendship with neighbor Sal; and the unsettling appearance of a deranged homeless person dubbed "the laughing man." Eventually and improbably, these strands converge to form a thought-provoking whole. Stead (First Light) accomplishes this by making every detail count, including Miranda's name, her hobby of knot tying and her favorite book, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. It's easy to imagine readers studying Miranda's story as many times as she's read L'Engle's, and spending hours pondering the provocative questions it raises. Ages 9-14. (July)[Page 45]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8-Sixth-grader Miranda lives in 1978 New York City with her mother, and her life compass is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. When she receives a series of enigmatic notes that claim to want to save her life, she comes to believe that they are from someone who knows the future. Miranda spends considerable time observing a raving vagrant who her mother calls "the laughing man" and trying to find the connection between the notes and her everyday life. Discerning readers will realize the ties between Miranda's mystery and L'Engle's plot, but will enjoy hints of fantasy and descriptions of middle school dynamics. Stead's novel is as much about character as story. Miranda's voice rings true with its faltering attempts at maturity and observation. The story builds slowly, emerging naturally from a sturdy premise. As Miranda reminisces, the time sequencing is somewhat challenging, but in an intriguing way. The setting is consistently strong. The stores and even the streets-in Miranda's neighborhood act as physical entities and impact the plot in tangible ways. This unusual, thought-provoking mystery will appeal to several types of readers.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT[Page 93]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.