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What Came from the Stars Hardcover – September 4, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-There's a pretty good story at the center of this novel. Twelve-year-old Tommy Pepper, his little sister, and their father are struggling through the grief of his mother's sudden death. Tommy and his mother parted on bad terms that terrible day, and he feels that her anger precipitated her car accident on an icy road. Patty has not spoken since. The family is also resisting the attempts of an unscrupulous developer to oust them from their beloved house in Plymouth, Massachusetts, so she can build waterfront condominiums. That's plenty of fodder for an absorbing plot. But Schmidt has wrapped Tommy's story inside an unsuccessful sci-fi fantasy. On a distant planet, evil, duplicitous beings have nearly conquered the good guys. In desperation, one of the heroic types makes a Chain out of the Art of his civilization and launches it into space, and it falls into Tommy's lunch box. All well and good, except that readers have no idea what the planet looks like or what normal life consists of there. The language in this part of the book is ponderous; for example, "Not a one of the Valorim did not weep for what would be lost together." Readers need to plow through pages of impenetrable prose before they meet Tommy. And every time they get swept into his story, it's brought to a halt. Schmidt is an accomplished, talented author who excels at creating characters dealing with tricky moral dilemmas. He has taken a risk in attempting to write in a new genre, but it's a risk that did not pan out this time.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NYα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
“Spielberg, get ready for this boldly imagined outer-space offering.”—Kirkus
“Schmidt, already a best-seller and award winner, should pick up even more fans with this crowd-pleasing fantasy.”—Booklist
“Wonderfully strange. . . . This inventive and memorable story for readers ages 10-15 manages to mingle the quotidian and the movingly supernatural. It's funny, too.”—The Wall Street Journal
"The balance of emotions is flawless."—Bulletin
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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Gary Schmidt is a prime example of the depth this genre. I have read every one of his books and have yet to be disappointed. "What Came from the Stars" is a prime example.
On the surface, this novel is Schmidt's foray into science fiction. In reality, it is an examination of loss, forgiveness, and redemption. No spoiler alert here. I am not going to give away the plot. But these plot elements are so deftly woven into the story that they are almost invisible. But by the end of the book, the reader cannot help but feel and understand them. A heck of a lesson for young people.
Schmidt has many valuable qualities as a writer. He has impeccable command of voice. In his two best known books - "Wednesday Wars" and "Okay for Now" - the protagonists' voices are true to their ages and yet are completely different. Written in the first person, the protagonists of both books do not relate their stories to the readers. They tell it as if seated across the dinner table. They are there with you. "What Came from the Stars" is written in the third person, but the reader still gets a vivid sense of Tommy Pepper, the protagonist. This book could not have been written in first person, and Schmidt knew that. In third person, we can ache for Tommy's losses. If written in first person, he could have come across as a complainer or whiner.
Schmidt's most important quality as a writer is a profound respect for his readers. He never simplifies his stories because he's writing for a younger readership. He knows they are capable of rising to the level of his storytelling. I have two examples of this. "What Came from the Stars" begins with an almost incomprehensible narration of a battle on a distant world. Few authors of any genre would have dared their readers to continue I this way. But Schmidt knows his readers well and kept the narration and descriptions lively, engaging, and dangerous enough to pull the reader along.
My other example of Schmidt's respect for his readers is best given by a then fifth grader in the school where I volunteer. The students were assigned to write an author of one of the books they'd read during the year. This boy chose Schmidt and told him "I never used to like to read. But you turned me into a reader." This boy now reads voraciously and discusses his reading with me at great length - a testament to Schmidt's ability to engage his young readers.
Read "What Came from the Stars." Whether you are 11, 31, or in your sixties, it will be a journey well worth taking.
(By the way, Schmidt wrote back to my young friend. In long hand!)
The story is wonderful. There is an uprising on a distant planet and the culture of the defeated tribe is stored on a chain and sent out into the universe. It lands on earth where it is found by Tommy Pepper, a sixth-grader who lives with his father and first-grade sister, Patty, in Plymouth, MA. The family is struggling over the recent death of the children's mother. The chain gives Tommy special power, but the victors, led by the evil Lord Mondus, frin the other planet, have determined where the chain containing The Art of the Valorim has gone and send evil representatives of the Lord Mondus to earth to get the chain. And so the strange happenings in Plymouth and the struggle between good and evil begin.
This is a "can't put down" book for all.
It's a thin story about a Plymouth, Massachusetts family struggling after mother dies. Father develops painter's block. First-grade daughter stops talking. Sixth-grade son stumbles along -- until a necklace containing the art and wonder of another society lands in his lunch box after an impossibly long inter-galactic journey. Not surprisingly, sinister beings from the far away planet want the necklace back and come after it. Trouble follows. That's it. Seventeen dollars.
The REAL trouble comes in the form of 12 short chapters (and a closing gospel) written in italics that hyphenate the 21 chapter book. The 12 chapters describe the problems on the far away planet that the reader quickly wishes was even farther away. The language is baroque and pretentious, sounding like Yoda impersonating Cecil B. DeMille doing the voice-over in The Ten Commandments. The chapters are cluttered with invented words and stilted pronouncements. They are over-written (deliberately, one would hope after reading "stilled the blood and gentled the hurt of his wounds") and murky enough to make you want to run the other way as fast as you can the instant you see italics.
Throughout the book the author uses an annoying technique, repeating sentences and sentence fragments multiple times in succession. It's almost like he's saying "be scared" or "cry now" rather than finding a way to make the reader do either. He also holds some goofy views like, for example, that the speed of thought is faster than the speed of light. Really? Ever listen to an elected official?
Most any reader given a quiz on the twelve italic chapeters would certainly fail. So does the book.