Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt

For fans of Gary Schmidt's writing, What Came from the Stars seems like a bit of a departure from form. For one thing, it's science fiction.

On a faraway planet, the last brave heroes of a doomed race are besieged. While the Valorim warriors hold the door against the O'Mondim invaders, Young Waeglim forges the Art of the Valorim into a chain and, with the last of his strength, sends it out among the stars, far away from the scene of the battle, to a little blue planet in a distant galaxy. The chain falls from the stars into the atmosphere, and from there into the Ace Robotroid lunchbox of twelve-year-old Tommy Pepper. When Tommy Pepper picks the chain up and puts it on, he develops certain unexpected artistic skills. Also, it transforms the supremely embarrassing Ace Robotroid lunchbox into something cool and spacey-looking. Tommy has worse problems than an embarrassing lunchbox, though: his mother has recently died, his younger sister is not talking to anyone any more, and his father is locked in a battle with developers who want the seaside land where the Pepper family's house sits. Their troubles increase when strange, unseasonable storms start ravaging the area, and houses in the town are vandalized in strange and disturbing ways. Tommy alone seems to realize that the storms and vandalism are because of the O'Mondim, who have come to Earth to reclaim the Art of the Valorim. Can Tommy stand firm against the invaders and do what is best for both his planet, and the other planet so far away whose fate is now inextricably linked with his own?

The main problem with this book is the first six pages. Schmidt opens the story with a detailed description of that last desperate siege. In a visual medium, it would be gripping. Unfortunately, in text, it is pretty much incomprehensible. Appropriately, Schmidt has created an entirely new language for the alien race -- but when you are reading a block of text that is rendered in an epic style, with every third or fourth word a made-up one, it is pretty tough going. Once the story shifts to Earth, it's a lot more engaging. I'm just concerned that the average kid, upon picking up this book and looking at that impenetrable block of text, will put the book down and move on to something more accessible. I know I nearly did!

Once you get past that first chapter, the going gets easier. Tommy and his father are engaging characters, and though Tommy's school friends are sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another, his teacher is brilliant and fun. Making Tommy's sister silent due to grief is an interesting decision, but one that I know I've seen in other books, which lessens the impact. The story moves along, trying to tie in the Cardiff Giant hoax with the alien races, which didn't quite work for me. So, while I liked the book, I wouldn't say that it's one of Schmidt's stronger works.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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