A fantastic middle Grady fantasy that reminds us that, occassionally, the word can dim our light but it is always there, ready to shine.
Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped — even though she told her parents that they did. Every day she feels less and less like herself.
Then Alma meets the ShopKeeper in the town’s junk shop, The Fifth Point. The ShopKeeper gives her a telescope and this message:
Find the Elements.
Grow the Light.
Save the Starling.
That night, Alma watches as a star—a star that looks like a child—falls from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and with the help of some unlikely new friends from the Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of astronomy, a little bit of alchemy, and her whole self.
QUINTESSENCE is a stunning story of friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you. from Goodreads.
Right from the beginning, I must confess that I loved this book even though it contained a device that is one of my least favorite in middle grade fiction – the child wandering around the town at night unsupervised. I despise this for a multitude of reasons but mostly because I find it unbelievable. Perhaps this is the city kid in me but whenever an author employs this device to get a kid on an adventure I’m just so uncomfortable. The characters in this book take this behavior to the nth degree by using that time away at night to explore many different parts of nature…..like caves. This element is the major reason it has taken me so long to write my thoughts on this book. Could I manage to overlook the Goonies aspect of the adventure for the uplifting and wonderful message? Turns out, yes. Yes, I can.
I struggled to become attached to Alma in the beginning. She is withdrawn to the point of being two dimensional. And, unlike every middle grade book, her parents are actually there trying to help and support her even if they are doing so in ways that Alma doesn’t find beneficial. Little by little, the author lets you see all the parts of her that she lost when she moved and the bits that a broken by this new mental health aspect. As the story of the Star progresses, so does Alma’s healing and watching her reclaim herself and remake herself was simply lovely.
I do so wish that the editors had not chosen to disclose the nature of Alma’s episodes in the book jacket. The author calls them “episodes” for so long that I began to wonder if even Alma understood what was happening to her. But this is so incredibly common in recently diagnosed people isn’t it? Diagnosis is made more palatable by a cute little euphemism. But you can’t fight something you are not willing to name. That theme, of keeping secrets and not asking for help, is so common in middle school and high school that it is a wonder anyone survives isn’t it? And once Alma, and her friends, start being honest about what is happening both with the Star and with their lives, they are able to form bonds, heal, and help each other.
I must admit that I can’t stop thinking about it this book. I grew to love Alma when she shined because her friends succeeded. I adored watching Alma discover that her older brother wasn’t as perfect as she had long assumed him to be. When Alma finally realized that she needed to talk to someone about her episodes?? Eureka. We are not alone in this world. We need each other. This was such a unique reminder of that hidden in a middle grade story. It just had that special something.
Tell me, please! What is a story device that you hate?