I love Gary Schmidt's books. Love. Love. Love. You can find my thoughts on three of them here, here, and here. When I found out his next book, What Came From the Stars, was going to be a fantasy I was so excited. I can see how those who love his realistic fiction might be inclined to dislike this one. I didn't. I thoroughly loved it, but in a different way than I love the realistic ones. It is a very different book and I loved it for what it was.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The Valorim are about
to fall to a dark lord when they send a necklace containing their planet
across the cosmos, hurtling past a trillion starsall the way into the
lunchbox of Tommy Pepper, sixth grader, of Plymouth, Mass. Mourning his
late mother, Tommy doesn't notice much about the chain he found, but
soon he is drawing the twin suns and humming the music of a hanorah. As
Tommy absorbs the art and language of the Valorim, their enemies target
him. When a creature begins ransacking Plymouth in search of the chain,
Tommy learns he must protect his family from villains far worse than
he's ever imagined.
The story is told in alternating chapters. It opens with the world of the Valorim and the Ethelim, the war being fought, and the forging of the necklace that contains all the Art of the Valorim. And that is some powerful stuff. Every other chapter the reader is given a glimpse of what is happening in this other world and the forces that are being sent to retrieve the necklace. It is a place where terror has taken hold, starvation and death are rampant, and the one being is trying to amass all power for himself.
If you are someone who doesn't like fantasy that throws you into a world with words and speech you are unfamiliar with, this is going to bother you. It is a fantasy. If you are someone who likes things explained, this is going to bother you. Where is this place? Who are these people? You're not going to find that out. I didn't care so much. I was more interested in what Schmidt was doing with the world. How, in one small way, he was attempting to show the vast unknown of the universe and powers greater than our human minds can comprehend. The contrast is shown in how this power collides with our world. The book, like all of Schmidt's other books, also demonstrates the power of art, be it painting, writing, singing, or play the accordion. Art is powerful, it moves and creates. What we do with it as humans only scratches the surface of what is possible.
In the part of the book set in our world readers will get what they have come to expect and love from Schmidt's other books. Characters that will grab your heart, a wry humor, and a story that shows the connectedness of people and community. Tommy's story is told in third person, but this did not keep me distant from him at all. Schmidt showed Tommy's heart and anguish and fear beautifully through the scenes with his family and friends. I did wonder a little that Tommy himself was not freaked out about the knowledge of the universe he suddenly possessed. Then I decided to just go with it, because in a strange way it made sense that acceptance would be part of possessing that knowledge and power. Also I think 6th grade is the perfect age to be able to accept and, at the same time, understand such a gift. I love the interactions between Tommy and his friends. The dialogue in those scenes is wonderful. Funny and wonderful. Classic Schmidt.