Review of What Came From the Stars, by Gary D. Schmidt

What Came From the Stars

by Gary D. Schmidt

Clarion Books, Boston, September 2012. 293 pages.

Chapter One of this book happens in Outer Space. The title is “The Last Days of the Valorim.” On a distant planet from ours, the Valorim are about to be defeated, but they make a decision:

Let us take all our song, our story, our beloit, gliteloit, all we have made from our hearts, all we have brought against the Silence, and let us forge it together and send it out from us, so that the Art of the Valorim might still be heard and seen and known even when the Valorim are no longer. Then shall the Silence be defeated.

Young Waeglim was able to forge their Art into a Chain and send it on his own Song and Thought across galaxies and finally to a small star and to a single small planet that is blue like its home planet.

It fell, cooling as it went, down toward the sea and the green land and the red brick building, until, with a final tumble, the Chain of the Valorim Art, the Chain that held their Heart, the Chain that was all that was left against the Silence, struck a window ledge, dangled through, skidded across a white plastic table top, fell toward a gray plastic bench, and dropped into the Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box of Tommy Pepper, sixth-grader, of the class of Mr. Burroughs, of William Bradford Elementary School, of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

It took some time before Tommy noticed.

Now, Tommy, as a sixth-grader, really hates having an Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box in sixth-grade. But Tommy’s grandmother waited in a long line so she could get one to give to him for his twelfth birthday, and Tommy’s dad insists that he should take it to school. He tries to hide it. He tries to leave it in his lunch box and take just the food out, “but that kind of plan never works.”

Just when it looks like Tommy’s in for the greatest of humiliations, he sees a quick flash of light at the window and his lunch box falls on the ground. Tommy still thinks he’s doomed, but he can’t help but pick up the glowing chain he sees next to his lunch box and put it around his neck. Then. . . something completely astonishing has happened to his lunch box.

And that’s only the first amazing thing that happens. Tommy can cut intricate shapes out of the birthday cake his teacher made. Tommy knows strange words (that seem normal to him) that other people don’t know. When he sings happy birthday with his father and sister, something else strange happens:

And with that wind in his face, and looking at the sea, and feeling the light fall on him from the first star, and with those he loved beside him, and his mother gone, gone, Tommy felt the chain warm, and he began to sing too. He sang of parting and of grief. He sang of friends and loved ones who must leave him. He sang of friends and loved ones who must leave him. He sang of the loneliness of one star without another. He sang in a high keen, as high-pitched as wind, and he felt the melody twine wih the strange starlight, and heard the sound of Hreth rising out of the ocean, and he sang of that too.

And when he finished, he looked at his father and at Patty, who stared at him in amazement and wonder. And he saw in his sister’s eyes that she was a little afraid.

“What?” he said.

Well, the conqueror of the Valorim is mighty upset when he finds that the Art of the Valorim is not in his grasp after all. So alternate chapters deal with him trying to get it back. Meanwhile strange things are happening in Plymouth, Massachusetts, at William Bradford Elementary School, and powerful people are trying to buy their house, the house they lived in with Tommy’s mother, the house that’s been in their family for generations — to build condos in its place.

And there’s evil to confront. Evil on the other planet, but also evil in Plymouth. Can Tommy and his friends overcome this evil? Can the Young Waeglim keep evil Lord Mondus from reaching across the galaxies and recovering the Art of the Valorim?

I did enjoy this book, and I especially enjoyed the parts set in Plymouth, the story of Tommy and his friends, but I’m not sure the overall story of the Valorim really worked for me. It was never clear how sending the Chain to earth really helped, and how they ever thought to recover it (though it turns out it just so happens that they want to recover it by the end of the book). The way Tommy uses another language is supposed to show that something alien is affecting his mind, but it doesn’t really work smoothly. The sections in outer space read like something from imitation Tolkien, and that didn’t quite work for me. I never really understood completely the story of what happened on the other planet, and I don’t really understand why they didn’t just send the chain to another part of their own planet — except that then it wouldn’t have affected an American kid.

Still, this book takes a story of an ordinary boy with tough problems and sets them in an extraordinary context. In the end, ordinary Tommy Pepper figures some things out that the mighty Valorim need to learn.

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Reader Copy I got at an American Library Association conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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