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  • BudNotBuddy@aol.com
    Richie’s Picks: WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS by Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion, September 2012, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-547-61213-3 “In the end there’s just a song
    Message 1 of 1 , May 17, 2012
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      Richie’s Picks: WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS by Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion, September 2012, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-547-61213-3


      “In the end there’s just a song

      Comes crying like the wind

      Through all the broken dreams

      And vanished years”

      -- Garcia/Hunter, “Stella Blue”


      “’See for yourself.’ said Mr. Burroughs, and they walked into the classroom.  They didn’t have to open the door—Tommy thought this was pretty familiar—because the door had already been torn off, broken in two, and thrown down the hall.

      “It was probably the only thing in the classroom that was in two pieces—everything else was in a whole lot more.  Every chair, splintered.  Every desk, smashed.  Mr. Burroughs’s desk, smithereens.  The whiteboard, shattered.  The books, shredded.  The shelves they had been on, pulverized.  If a hurricane had roared into Mr. Burroughs’s classroom overnight, it couldn’t have looked any worse.

      “And the feh smell!  Something stank as though it had been dragged up from the bottom of the sea.  Like rotten seaweed, only more rotten than any seaweed that had ever rotted before. 

      “The chain warmed.

      “The smell in the room, the feh smell, was the smell of hate.”


      No, it is not the resurrection of Sycorax and Caliban.  What is happening in Plymouth, Massachusetts -- including what has befallen Tommy Pepper’s classroom at William Bradford Elementary -- is far scarier than was watching those bloated and blighted rodents come falling through the ceiling in THE WEDNESDAY WARS.


      With his two Newbery honors, and Printz honor in hand, Gary D. Schmidt could have so easily chosen to craft another extremely fun and notable piece of historical fiction that would undoubtedly sell well and be up for awards six months from now.   Being such a fan, myself, I’m certainly hoping to see more of those sorts of stories in the future. 


      But Professor Schmidt has challenged himself by leaving behind the familiar and, instead, setting his latest group of young characters within an ambitious work of tween science fiction.  And yet, at the same time, (and to my delight), he once again tells a story that touches on loss and justice and family and education and how we so often see the American dream falling into the chasm between the privileged in America and us ninety-nine percenters.


      So it is that, when the Valorim being pursued by the O’Mondim realize that their last days are upon them, Young Waeglim – who has forged the last of the Art of the Valorim into a chain – sets loose the Chain which flies past galaxies, past comets and nebulae, past entire constellations, and lands squarely in the embarrassingly ridiculous lunchbox that Tommy Pepper’s grandmother has just given him for his twelfth birthday.  So it is that the Chain which ends up hanging at Tommy’s throat is being sought by an O’Mondim here on Earth.  So it is that Tommy suddenly has sweet and vivid memories of the distant planet he’s never known and is performing feats that nobody in his world can understand.


      “pepper give us what we want”


      But will the Chain help him save his family’s funky beach house -- the house that was his dead mother’s Eden and which is being relentlessly pursued through legal proceedings by a local politically-connected developer who seeks to build condos on the beach?  Will it help him save his train-wreck-of-a-family in the wake of his mother’s death?


      “Mr. Pepper went into the main office with the principal to sign them out while Tommy and Patty waited out in the hall.  And when they were alone, Patty reached up to her brother’s chest to feel the chain through his shirt.

      “’I think so too,’ he whispered.

      “She yanked it once.

      “’I can’t give it to Dad,’ Tommy said.

      “She looked at him, waited.

      “’Because it’s harder and harder to remember her,’ he said.  ‘I can hardly remember her voice.  Or her…But with this…’

      “He couldn’t finish.  Tommy Pepper tried not to cry outside the main office of William Bradford Elementary School.

      “Until Patty put her arms around him.”


      Having recently fallen in with a network of east coast classical musicians, I am tuned into what will be the real salvation of Tommy and his community.


      I’ve always recognized how different classical music is from the popular songs that have fed my soul for fifty-seven years.  But, as a non-musician, I have just belatedly come to realize the obvious and most significant difference between these two species.  Unlike pop and rock, which are lyrics-driven and are necessarily performed by those who can speak and sing English, works of classical music are conversations that are shared by those who speak the world’s most universal language: the language of sound patterns and of black notes on pages of sheet music which are understood by every trained musician the world round, no matter what their everyday spoken language or their mastery of English.  


      As a son whose mother’s death a dozen years ago left a still-gaping hole in me, I read with sadness and empathy about Tommy and Patty’s loss and their resulting dysfunction.  And as one for whom music has always done that thing inside of me, I love what comes to pass in this tale of two worlds. 


      Richie Partington

      Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/ http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php



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