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"What Came From the Stars," by Gary D. Schmidt



Oh, Gary Schmidt, I am torn about your new book. You tried to do something with What Came From the Stars and it doesn’t work. That’s not to say that there were parts of this book that were beautifully written and definitely what I would expect for you (I loved Okay for Now). But, boy, did you need an editor. There’s far too much going on in this book.

First, that parallel story running in this book? You know, the battles on the distant planet. The world creation. The crazy words. To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Gary Schmidt, you are no J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve read Tolkien, and you are not Tolkien

Actually, the whole distant-planet story is a little too reminiscent of the tale Tolkien tells in The Silmarillion. In Tolkien’s world, the Valar (you call them Valorim) create a world for elves and men (you call them Ethelim and O’Mondin), but there’s this bad guy called Melkor (you use the name Mondus). Melkor destroys lots of things and causes the Valar to move out of Middle Earth (Mondus betrays both the Ethelim and the O’Mondin and destroys almost all of the Valorim). In Tolkien, the Valar move to a new home they call Valinor (your last remaining Valar goes away too). Let’s not forget that Middle Earth has two illuminated trees (and your planet has those two suns). Need I say more?

Now maybe you were thinking, heck, no one has read The Silmarillion. That book is awful. I might even agree with you there. It is bloody hard to read. But your book is no better:

“But Naelim was mighty in arms and hard in spirit. He would not call for aid, but fell upon Young Waeglim himself. And the striking of the orlou was terrible and the blue sparks that flew from the blades lit the Seats to the Eyes of Ealgar.”

The sad part is that I didn’t even have to look hard for an example. I just let the book fall open on my desk and found something to use. Maybe, just maybe, you wanted to pay tribute to Tolkien?

Back on Earth, a young boy gets caught up in the battle on that other planet when a chain that contains the magical song of the Valorim ends up in his lunch box. This portion of the story could have been good. But, sigh, again, it really needed an edit. There’s just so much going on:
1.       The dead mom.
2.       The protagonist’s guilt over maybe having something to do with his mom’s death.
3.       His younger sister’s selective mutism due to sadness over dead mom.
4.       The out of work dad, who hasn’t painted in years, due to his wife’s death.
5.       The evil real estate broker who wants to buy the grieving family’s house so she can build condominiums on the beachfront property.
6.       The bully on the bus.
7.       The accordion-playing kid.
8.       Tommy, our protagonist, spouting weird words and doing very odd things, and not much reaction from those around him.
9.       The Cardiff Giant.
10.   The repetition… of the Tom Brady football line, the Bach song, the bit about the kids not handling the swords and other weaponry correctly, the secretary saying it's not her job…

There were parts I really enjoyed, like when Tommy and his friends battle with the extraterrestrial villain, and how Tommy uses the magic he has gotten through that chain to deliver the O’Mondin from their horrible existence on that other planet.

But I’m afraid the entire story is just a bit overwrought. Do you watch Project Runway? Sometimes inexperienced designers throw every little trick they have at a garment. They don’t know how to edit themselves yet. What Came From the Stars is like that.

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