What Came From the Stars
Gary D. Schmidt
I’m a huge fan of the books of Gary Schmidt’s I’ve read to date (Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Okay for Now, and The Wednesday Wars). So I was thrilled to win a goodreads “first reads” giveaway. I got an ARC for this book in the mail the week the hardcover hit bookstore shelves in September. I must confess that the first chapter really threw me–I knew this was a fantasy (a deviation from Schmidt’s award-winning historical fiction novels), but it still threw me.
What Came From the Stars alternates in perspective between the Valorim, a far-off creature group in a far-off galaxy on a far-off planet, and the very real here and now world of young Tommy Pepper, a sixth grader in Plymouth, Massachusetts. If I could boil the plot down to the bare bones, it would read something like this:
- gift from far, far away–another world altogether–intersects with our human world
- childlike faith in this gift helps bring restoration to suffering people
- evil has also entered the world, but childlike faith in the gift helps conquer the evil
- the otherworldly gift ultimately returns to its original planet, thoroughly trouncing evil in an otherworldly epic battle
Sound familiar to any of my readers? Indeed, the Creation-Fall-Redemption thread that Megan and I have mentioned on occasion lurks within the covers of this unassuming book. And yet Schmidt is never about plot alone. He really shines in his descriptions, his characterization, and his representation of suffering people seeking to bring about restoration and wholeness. This is a meditation, in some ways, on grief and the healing that needs to occur–and can occur (and, as usual in Schmidt’s works, art figures prominently into this process of restoring wholeness). This book is also an exploration of the world of the fantastic, of the different voices that one might use to convey an otherworldly tone, and a poignant account of one sixth grader’s experience.
Worth reading? Yes. For everyone? Maybe not. The high fantasy tone of the Valorim’s chapters may throw some readers while it might completely entrance others. Schmidt admitted in a lecture I heard him give that he began this book as a joke, poking fun at a fantasy author friend of his. Well, his joke ended up being much more rewarding than he may have thought at first. While not as universally strong as his historical fiction, What Came From the Stars is nonetheless a great book.