When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Though she may not be the most conservative dresser, Mom is Miranda's – and the novel's – moral guide. She aspires to be a public defense lawyer (3.25), she runs a parenting group for women in prison (26.5-9), and she urges Miranda to treat people like the Laughing Man humanely (5.3). Think of her as an updated, and more perky, version of another great single parent from literary history: To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch.
Warning: Despite the Atticus Finch comparison, we should remind Shmoopers that Miranda's mom is in no way perfect. She's not always up and at 'em to fix Miranda a breakfast of eggs and waffles, and her kooky wardrobe seriously irks Miranda. It sometimes makes Miranda feel like her mother is twelve years old. (Can you say "role reversal"?)
Like Miranda, Mom is on her own journey to answer questions and solve puzzles. Throughout the novel she's preparing for an appearance on the popular 1970s game show $20,000 Pyramid. Though her trajectory isn't quite the same as Miranda's search for the secrets of time travel, Mom's appearance on the show is still life changing. The winnings could obviously help her family, and, as we learn at the end of the novel, will help her achieve her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Mom also becomes a source of wisdom for Miranda on her journey to figure out the nature of time and the reality of truth (big concepts, we know.) Especially important is Miranda's discussion of her mother's understanding of "veils" in Chapter 21:
Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way.
But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there's a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don't have to depend on the wind anymore. (21.3)
Mom must push away the veil in order to see the links between the clues she receives on $20,000 Pyramid. Miranda realizes she must do much the same thing to see the truths about the story playing out right in front of her.