What Came From the Stars, by Gary D. Schmidt (lexile: 930; AR book level: 5.5; 294 pp)
On a far away planet, the peaceful Valorim face their final moments as the evil Lord Mondus and his minions besiege their city. As the fight comes to the innermost tower, the last of their people forges all the combined Art of the Valorim into a single jeweled chain and casts it into space to keep it from Lord Mondus. Across unknown galaxies it travels, until it lands — in the lunchbox of 12-year old Tommy Pepper, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Tommy doesn’t realize what he’s received, but he has a lot of other things to distract him lately. His mother died 257 days ago, his father and younger sister are each grieving in their own ways, and an unscrupulous real estate investor is trying to get their beachfront cottage.
Soon, however, Tommy’s friends and family notice that he is able to do some pretty remarkable things, like painting a picture that actually moves. It all seems natural to him, like the memories he has of a planet with two suns. But they know something strange is going on when someone starts breaking into homes and even the school, ransacking but never stealing. Something sent from far away is trying to regain a lost treasure, and Tommy and his friends will need to fight to defend his family — and perhaps, though he doesn’t realize it, save a distant planet.
What Came from the Stars shifts back and forth between Earth and the Valorim world, as the two stories gradually come together. It may be labeled science-fiction, but it’s much more a story about grief, forgiveness, and friendship. You will certainly like Tommy Pepper, his family and friends. (And you may wish that — even for just a moment — you could wear the Art of the Valorim and do the unbelievable.)
Some reviewers really like the story of Tommy Pepper, but found the interspersed narratives from the Valorim’s planet difficult to follow. Schmidt introduces a number of made-up terms in the Valorim language, and the picture of what’s going on there is painted in spare detail. The reader does have to work, and the complete background story is not clear until the very end. To me, that mystery was part of the appeal of the book, and fit the storyline. Tommy and his friends had to gradually piece together what was going on, and so does the reader. One of Schmidt’s many strengths as a writer is that he doesn’t tell you too much — just enough to hint, and leave you the “aha!” moment of discovery.