Thursday, November 8, 2012
What Came From the Stars, by Gary D. Schmidt
Tommy's life is steeped in the cares of this world, from the devastating to the trivial. It's his birthday, the lunchbox is a present from Grandma, it's an Ace Robotroid lunchbox, and he's WAY too old for Ace Robotroid. This is also the first birthday Tommy has had since his mom died 257 days ago in a car crash that he believes his bad attitude caused. His dad can't paint anymore, his sister doesn't speak anymore, and a nasty realtor is trying to take their home in historic Plymouth, MA, for an oceanfront condo development. Tommy has no time for a chain from outer space; in fact it takes him a while to even find it in the hated lunchbox. Really, though, it's more like the chain has found Tommy. He suddenly begins to understand words, concepts, and especially art that he has no background for, and he can make this art, too.
Back on the faraway planet, of course, the Lord Mondus and his minions want to know where the art has gone. They will eventually find out, invade Plymouth in order to capture it, and Tommy will have to defend his home, family, friends, school, and town against enemies that are way, way beyond the cares of this world.
The chapters alternate between Tommy's world and the fantasy world, and the language is starkly different from one to another. In Tommy's chapters it's well-written but down to earth; the high fantasy chapters have the majesty of Beowulf or the King James Bible about them. I loved when Tommy began to fight the evil intruders and the high-flown language of the mythical world began to invade Tommy's world. We even see that though he is still Tommy, he is also "Tommim," a boy with a much grander purpose--an intergalatic purpose--than most people would ever dare dream of.
The basic plots of both worlds are not terribly original, but I'm not sure how much this matters. First, the high fantasy chapters are not easy reading (and in my opinion the glossary at the back of the book should be in front so readers find it before they finish), so it helps that the plot is familiar. Second, good vs. evil is so foundational to all of existence. Third, the themes are what matter here. Both this book and his previous novel, Okay for Now, are about the importance of art to individuals and to culture. More prominent though, I think, are other ideas. That we can receive grand assignments from "way out there" (God, in my book) that we did not ask for, that seem way beyond us, but that we will be equipped to handle even if we have to step out in fear. And that the key to fixing the mess in our earthly lives is often found in embracing a realer, truer, purpose. Gary D. Schmidt is a professor at Calvin College in Michigan, and I'm sure the underlying Christian themes in this story are no accident.
A "wow" book, recommended for readers who wouldn't mind some high fantasy with their contemporary fiction.