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)