I picked up When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead with no expectations whatsoever. I'd heard from someone who'd heard from someone that it was, "uh, pretty good", which made the pleasure of being bowled over by its wonderfulness all the sweeter.
Miranda lives in late 70s Manhattan with her single mother, a para-legal and future game-show contestant on the The $20,000 Pyramid. Amidst helping her mom practice for the show, 12-year-old Miranda is dealing with a lot of firsts: first job, first crush, first confusing breakup with a best friend. Stead handles the swirling emotions of junior high so well, and the novel speaks so truly to these experiences, that when Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes from someone who seems to know the future, the reader doesn't feel jarred by the injection of fantasy. The sci-fi elements are gentle and unfold organically; the clues given to the reader make the ending seem fair and satisfying.
When You Reach Me offers a little bit of everything. It's a realistic depiction of the tentative nature of junior high relationships, a sci-fi, middle-grade Time Traveler's Wife, a bit of historical fiction (12-year-olds in 1979 Manhattan lived a much different life than NYC tweens today!). Highly recommended, for all age groups!