Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Genre: Fantasy, Contemporary, Middle Grade
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication date: September 4 2012
Hardcover: 304 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I’ve read and absolutely LOVED last year’s Okay for Now and finishing that book wanting to read ALL THE Schmidts. So I had to buy this one as soon as it came out.
In a galaxy far, far away, the Dark Lord Mondus is about to kill the last of the Valorim and thus, seize control of their Art. In a last desperate effort, Young Waeglim forges the Art of the Valorim into a chain and sends it across galaxies and planets. And so it has come to pass that said chain lands squarely in the ridiculous Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box of Tommy Pepper, a sixth grader from Plymouth, Mass. Thinking the chain is just another birthday present from his grandmother, Tommy starts wearing it and soon enough and almost without realising it, Tommy absorbs the language and the collective memory of the Valorim.
What he does notice – and very clearly too – is how the memories of his late mother become more vivid. And so under the influence of the Art of the Valorim, he is able to draw and paint her face, and to sing his grief and love. His life becomes a little bit more bearable because of that, even though his family is still grieving, even though his sister won’t utter a word, even though they might lose their home.
In the meantime, the Dark Lord Mondus is relentlessly pursuing the Art of Valorim and a creature made of sand causes havoc around Tommy’s town. The story progresses alternating between what is happening back in that distant planet and what is taking place in Plymouth, in a mixture of Fantasy with Contemporary MG.
I am slightly torn about What Came from the Stars. On the one hand, this is vintage Schmidt with the usual assuredness with which the author writes kids and their dialogue. Tommy’s group of friends is fun and I loved seeing their realistic interaction with each other. Similarly, Tommy Pepper’s grieving family and the beautiful relationship between them, especially between Tommy and younger sister Patty are expertly handled and easily the best thing about the novel. I love reading about siblings that get along well and it was heart-warming to see Tommy being so protective and loving toward Patty.
On the other hand, I can’t help but to feel that What Came from the Stars is an incredibly familiar story not only in relation to the author’s previous book Okay for Now but also in a broader Fantasy context. With regards to the former, one of the most important themes present in Okay for Now is present in this new book as well: the importance given to art as part of a healing process. It is evidence of how torn I am about the book that I even include this here because I often love stories about how important art is but given how the memory of Okay for Now is so fresh, I see it as a repetitive thematic core…if that makes sense? I guess first-time readers of Schmidt’s work would not find the same problem.
This brings me to the Fantasy side of the story, which is another aspect that left me conflicted about the book. The Fantasy storyline, with the Valorim and the O’Mondim, its motifs of Good vs Evil and the creation of the One Chain is kind of derivative Fantasy. That said, there is an obvious affection for an old-fashioned Tolkien-inspired Fantasy setting and What Came from the Stars could be a great introduction to Fantasy for a Middle Grader.
To summarise: this was perhaps not the right book for me and despite seeing obvious qualities about it, I was ultimately not impressed.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
You can read the first chapter here:
Rating: 6 – Good.
Reading Next: The Diviners by Libba Bray
Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)