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Read: “When You Reach Me” and “First Light”, by Rebecca Stead

I just finished reading First Light, by Rebecca Stead , after reading When You Reach Me earlier this month. I liked When You Reach Me so much that I gave it to James for his birthday, knowing we share a love of science fiction, with a special fondness for young adult science fiction. James has observed that young adult fiction is a joy to read, as it is driven almost entirely by character and story — no messy philosophy or moralistic exposition to get in the way of enjoying the story[1]2{#id1.footnote-reference}. When You Reach Me and First Light are both great stories, imaginative and well executed. You can read either trying to divine the “Lesson” for the reader, but that’s optional: they’re just great stories that you can get lost in and enjoy.

When You Reach Me takes place in 1970’s New York City, and tells the story of Miranda and her changing friendships at school. When her best friend, Sal, stops hanging out and she starts receiving mysterious notes, she’s left to figure out what’s going on. When You Reach Me is written with great details that really make the setting and the place real to me. The characters — especially Miranda and her mother — have wonderful dialogue that makes them seem like real, individual people. Stead weaves A Wrinkle In Time through the story, adding to the mystery (it’s clear early on that there’s some relation between the two stories) as well as giving the reader a clue that Miranda is not just any girl, she’s a girl who likes Madeline L’Engle.

When You Reach Me won the Newberry Medal this year, but I actually enjoyed Stead’s first novel, First Light, even more. First Light has one of my favorite structures: multiple, seemingly independent plot lines. You’re sure they’re related some how, and seeing how the author brings them together — as well as how seamlessly — is part of the fun. In the case of First Light, we have the story of Thea, a girl living under the ice, and Peter, a boy from New York City whose father is studying glacial movement and whose mother is prone to “headaches” which take her away from reality for hours or days on end. Just as with When You Reach Me, Stead manages to create a cast of three dimensional, compelling characters, human and canine alike.