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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead I read A Wrinkle in Time roughly 7,294,493 times when I was a teenage girl. Roughly. I re-read it in the last year, but I never got around to reviewing because I couldn't deal with it, and I'm pretty sure I still can't. Wrinkle spoke to me as a teenager, as a nascent person, but as a big person, more formed, I found the book oddly-paced and profoundly strange. I still love it, but I love it more for what it did for my younger self than the book itself.

I think When You Reach Me, which is a self-conscious riff on A Wrinkle in Time, is pretty perfect as such, and captures all kinds of odd sensations about childhood, and the particular time travel of readers. I went back to my childhood when I read Wrinkle, and I had these bright flashes of the times I read it: sitting in the passenger seat of my Dad's blue truck when we drove cross-country when I was 12, the landscape spooling past unnoticed as I read and read and read. Dad's still pissed at me for not noticing the majesty of America on that trip, and I still feel a little bad about it. America, you are majestic, but you cannot compete with L'Engle in the affections of 12 year old Ceridwen! Or the way I would create a cocoon in my bed in the near dark, and read carefully still because the reading-lamp I had clamped to the headboard had this tendency to pop off at the slightest hint of movement.

Set in the late-70s in New York, When You Reach Me concerns a 12 year old girl, Miranda and the strange, and not-strange, things that happen to her over the course of a couple of months. Much is mundane, but sweetly so: the concerns of girl navigating a city, a school, a group of friends, a family. She also receives a series of odd letters that seem to be from someone with knowledge of the future. As a narrator, she addresses much of this story to "you" which freaked me out at first, because I'm not hugely into second person narratives. But it's not truly second person, and the "you", while specific, does also strangely speak to me, the Ceridwen-reader, traveling back, as I did, and watching myself read, feeling myself read.

I can't really draw this metaphor too tightly in my review lest I get into some major conceptual spoilers, but I will say there was something melancholy and sad about the ending. I had figured out the mystery of the letter-writer pretty quick - something I was proud of, because I'm usually stupid when it comes to that sort of thing - but I hadn't thought it out to its logical conclusions: what it meant, how this would affect those involved, how knowing the outcome is not the same as experiencing it. I think this is deftly done, on the part of the author, because the point isn't some narrative trick, but in the experience of the story. And ah, so sad.

Honestly, I don't know how this will read to someone who is 12, who has never read A Wrinkle in Time, who was never me being 12 and reading A Wrinkle in Time. Even ignoring all of my happy time-traveling vertigo, I thought the story itself - the way it was told, the prose, the intelligence of the characterizations - was very well done. I wish I could travel back and give this to my younger self, but I will settle for traveling forward, day by day, and giving this to my 12 year old daughter, when I reach her.