I haven’t yet read Gary Schmidt’s award-winning Okay for Now, but I was so drawn to the premise of What Came from the Stars that I had to read it first. The book takes place in Plymouth Massachusetts, where Tommy Pepper lives by the sea with his sister and his father. Nothing particularly good has happened to Tommy lately, until he discovers a necklace with magical powers…
“Tommy Pepper looked down beneath the cafeteria table at his fallen Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box, and there among the spilled carrot and celery sticks, something…well, something glowed…He reached down and picked it up. A chain. Green and silver. Heavy.”
When Tommy puts the chain around his neck, assuming it goes with the painfully embarrassing lunch box from his grandmother, the unexpected begins to happen. The chain seems to have special powers. Tommy can imagine something, and it will happen. He has superhuman artistic abilities, too: he can paint a goat eating grass and it actually appears to be chewing. The truth is, the chain has been flung through space from an alien planet, and its powers are sorely missed back home.
All of a sudden, Tommy has language, skills, and memories from the people who made the necklace. He can also remember his mother more vividly. Meanwhile, Tommy’s little sister Patty has stopped talking following his mother’s death, and Tommy’s father is fighting an evil realtor who would have their ramshackle home torn down in order to build fancy condominiums. It seems that everywhere, the memory of his late mother is threatened.
As Tommy discovers the power of the chain, there is a war happening on the planet Valorim. The book is split between Tommy Pepper’s life on earth and the alien battle, but elements of the Valorim (whose magic Tommy has mistakenly stolen) make their way to Tommy’s world. Although the switch between settings can be difficult and the language of the Valorim is challenging, the fantastical and folkloric threads made this a memorable read. The appearance of a mysterious and sinister teacher and a golem-like clay creature in Tommy’s world move the story along and create a mystery for readers to try to solve. What is real and what is imagined? Who is ransacking people’s houses at night?
Ultimately, I liked this story because it was an interesting hybrid of fantasy, sci-fi, and realistic fiction. Somewhere in the middle of the mystery and magic, Tommy slowly comes to terms with his mother’s death, as the art of the Valorim helps him to experience his memories of her more vividly. The restorative power of art and of family are at the core of this story, which is why I enjoyed it so much.