Monday, July 21, 2014

Books that inspire.

If there is one thing I will never deny my children {let's suppose it's just one thing} it is a book, or rather, books in abundance.  Books are literally falling off the shelves in our house.  I love books and, luckily, so does my duo. Sometimes they find a series or book on their own and become deeply entranced with it {as with Rick Riordian's Demigod series}. Sometimes I suggest we read something together {as with the first Harry Potter novel, though they quickly read the remaining six without me}. Sometimes, however, I see a book somewhere and think they should read it. Sometimes said book sits on an overcrowded shelf for months. Occasionally, a year or more.  

Such was the case with Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me.  I do not recall the circumstances which precipitated this purchase. I do, however, know that it has been on the "kids'" bookshelf for at least a year. Recently, however, when I noted my duo was far too entrenched in TV, and computers, and video games, I insisted they take a few tech-free days. 

When asked what in the world they would do with their time, I suggested reading any books on the shelf not heretofore read. After both kids devoured the book they handed it to me and said we should read it together.

We read very few books together anymore as the season of lolling in bed with freshly bathed, pajama-clad kids has passed. Our evenings are now more generally categorized as frantic meal making whilst transporting children to and from their myriad of activities {I am nothing if not a multi-tasker}. I yearn for those by-gone days and gladly jumped at the opportunity.   

And so we began reading When You Reach Me together. We were, however, neither pajama-clad nor freshly bathed. In fact we didn't even snuggle together in one bed, but instead, we were haphazardly strewn about my bedroom - one on the chair, another on the bed, and me running around multi-tasking. 

After our first session of reading together I was inclined to read the entire book more quickly than our sporadic, joint readings allow. I received permission to have at it all alone. And so I did. I read it immediately upon waking the next morning. I read it while eating breakfast. I read it while brushing my teeth. I read and read and read until I found myself weeping on a treadmill at the YMCA.

I was absolutely awestruck by the taunt yet complex plot, characters, and heart-breaking poignancy of it. Every single word and sentence has meaning. Stead appears to effortlessly weave together mystery, historical fiction, middle school fiction, life lessons in friendships and relationships, all with a string of time travel cleverly traversing through it.

I admit I became a bit of a detective while reading -- examining the map-like cover for clues, studying the clever chapter titles after each and every chapter, and constantly recalibrating my own hypothesis as more and more clues were revealed.

In addition to the gripping storyline, I was also struck by the clarity of Miranda's, the main character's, voice. Stead offers an emotional connection to a girl struggling to make sense of her world. And from Miranda's perspective, as with most sixth grade children, life-or-death stakes and the loss of a friendship may not feel that far apart. Miranda's narrative voice is startlingly authentic, in part because Stead so skillfully conveys the self-doubt of the age. It's not just the story's or life's bigger mysteries she is unsure of. Trivial ones are equally perplexing.

A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorite books of all time, as is also the case with our heroine, Miranda, is referenced throughout the story. Both books superbly convey a sense that life is full of unseen mysteries. "It's crazy the things a person can pretend not to notice,” Miranda says in the first pages, foreshadowing the many overlooked clues to follow. Later, she returns to the theme, explaining her mom’s theory that our experience of life is always mediated and incomplete. “We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces,” Miranda paraphrases, “But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind that blew it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is.”

This book undoubtedly lifted my veil. It let light shine in in a way adult literature cannot manage in a mere 197 pages. It was like a breath of fresh air delightfully and cleverly packaged in a book both young and old can appreciate.  

In the end, I'm not sure if it was the story's poignancy or if I was just feeling nostalgic, or perhaps something in between, but for a few hours this 43-year old was 12 again. And if that's not time travel, I don't know what is.  

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