Middle Grade Slipstream: When You Reach Me

Now that the Middle Grade Monday bloggers have inspired me, plus the fact that I just finished the lovely middle grade book When You Reach Me, I decided to do another middle grade post.

I’m sure you know of this award-winning, best-selling children’s book by Rebecca Stead. I would recommend it for kids ages 10-12. It had some challenging elements for younger readers, but captures so well how the world looks to a 12-year old.

When You Reach Me takes place in New York during the late 70’s. It’s about a young girl, Miranda Sinclair, who begins to receive mysterious notes from someone who appears to have knowledge of future events. In addition, her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped being friends with her and she doesn’t know why. In the background of all of this, her mother is about to appear on The 20,000 Pyramid show. (remember that show?)

My focus as a writer/teacher is MG/YA speculative fiction, which as we all know has exploded in popularity in the past decade. I think we owe a great deal to J.K. Rowling for this. No longer are there simply the three main speculative fiction categories (Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Horror). There are dozens of subgenres and more being invented through a fusion of elements and due to our strange modern times. (See a fabulous subgenre list by Marg Gilks HERE).

The “slipstream” subgenre isn’t as well known as some and I think When You Reach Me is a fabulous example of it.

Slipstream is defined as a cross between light science fiction or fantasy and mainstream (non-genre) fiction. It deals with real world issues, so can be categorized as mainstream, but it’s life a bit fantastic, a bit surreal.

When You Reach Me deals with such things as poverty, racism, single parenthood, and injustice as well as 12-year-old world things like first crushes and fights with your best friend. At the same time it’s a mystery with a time travel element.

It’s one of the lovely things about this book to me, that it deals effectively with the real concerns of a real world 12 year old growing up in New York City in the 70’s. And all the sci fi / physics / time travel parts are only understood from a 12-year-old’s perspective. Time travel can be mind bending for adults. But since the protagonist is trying to wrap her own young mind about it, it seems more believable.

This book made me cry and then laugh 2 sentences later.

For an adult example of slipstream, I always cite The Time Traveler’s Wife because the book is less about time travel and more a tragic love story about how to be in a relationship when your partner is unstuck in time. The relationship is real and gritty and challenging like every other relationship out there – you try to see if you could stay in a long-term relationship with a time traveler who had no control of when he left!

(I know there are people out there who dislike time travel stories and I’d say don’t let that scare you away from either book)

8 Comments

  1. Barbara Watson
    Aug 29, 2011

    I haven’t read this one yet – unbelievable! I know of it – it won the Newbery or at least received an honor – but I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Thanks for highlighting it. I’ve heard it is truly marvelous. :-)

  2. I was pretty late getting to it myself. It’s very sweet. My only criticism is that I kinda saw the answer to the mystery a long way off – – but then again, it is for 10-year-olds. I’m sure it would have become one of my favourite books if I had read it that young.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Suma
    Aug 29, 2011

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I will look it up. Sounds like something that I read. Slip stream…hmmm that’s an interesting genre. I too like Time Traveller’s wife! Hope you are having a good summer.

    Best,
    Suma.

  4. Michael G-G
    Aug 30, 2011

    Great review, Danika. I love time travel! (Thanks for the genre link to Marg Gilks, too). And thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting!

  5. @Suma – having a great, and busy, summer!

    @Michael – I like time travel, too. Dr. Who fan and all. For me, it has to be well done and thought through. For instance, there was a time travel glitch in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that got some readers grumbling.

  6. Joanne Fritz
    Sep 9, 2011

    Danika, I’m sorry I’m just finding your blog (well, I had no power last week anyway). But thanks for commenting on mine. I LOVE this book. I read an advanced reader’s copy before it pubbed and I knew it would win some kind of award. Another bookseller I work with read it and thought “meh.” So it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    I know exactly what you mean about seeing the answer to the mystery long before the ending, but I agree that if I’d read this at age 10 or 11, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it.

    Time travel novels have always intrigued me, ever since TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney (which if you haven’t read, you must!). One of my favorites for kids is VOICES AFTER MIDNIGHT by Richard Peck.

  7. Hi Joanne. I haven’t read either Time and Again or Voices After Midnight, but I adore Richard Peck (he was a surprise keynote speaker at SCBWI conference this year!) so I’ll have to check them out. Thanks.

    I like time-travel, too, but it can be squirrelly. For instance, in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, there was kind of a gaping plot hole due to a time loop issue.

  8. Joanne Fritz
    Sep 14, 2011

    I’ve heard that about Miss Peregrine, although I haven’t read it myself. Most time travel novels are flawed for that very reason. It’s the paradox of time travel. Voices After Midnight just made more sense than most.

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