Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Stead’

cover of first edition of Newbery Award-winning classic

It was a dark and stormy night.

Really. The rain and the wind woke me up Thursday night, and I knew what I wanted to write about as my first post on my new blog.

Many of you know that Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton opened his 1830 novel Paul Clifford with the stirring phrase “It was a dark and stormy night,” which became so associated with bad florid prose that San Jose State University annually sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the best worst opening sentences. And, of course, Snoopy of Peanuts cartoon fame also opts for the dramatic words for the beginning of his many novels.

Extra credit, though, if you also recognize “It was a dark and stormy night” as the first sentence of Madeleine L’Engle’s fantasy novel that won the 1963 Newbery Award, thus assuring its place as a kid-lit classic. Miranda, the 12-year-old narrator of Rebecca Stead’s novel When You Reach Me, knows the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time without looking because she is always re-reading her copy. “I had probably read it a hundred times, which is why it looked so beat-up,” she says.

Ah, Miranda. Know exactly what you mean. After reading When You Reach Me, which uses L’Engle’s time-travel tale as a touchstone, I went in search of my own beat-up Scholastic Book Fair paperback. I re-read it, then re-read Stead’s book, enchanted again by its own artful puzzle plot, with its fantasy elements neatly embedded in the down-to-earth setting of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, circa 1979.  Middle-school magical realism, if you will.

Miranda’s everyday world, in which she wonders why her best friend Sal has stopped talking to her and where she is helping her idealistic single mom prep to be a game-show contestant, tilts when she receives four mysterious letters that seem to predict the future.  An apartment key also goes missing. And what’s up with the homeless guy – dubbed “the laughing man’’ by Miranda’s mom – who lies with his head under the corner mailbox, and frenemies Marcus with his head in a book (or the clouds) and  Julia with her nose in the air and a ready explanation of the nature of time using a ring of diamond chips?

When You Reach Me last week won the Newbery Award from the American Library Association. Hurray! It deserves to be timeless.

(Open Book: I’ve owned my paperback of A Wrinkle in Time for years, and I bought a hardcover When You Reach Me (Random House) last fall. It’s already looking a bit beat-up)

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