Amber and Clay

Candlewick. Mar. 2021. 544p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781536201222.
Gr 5 Up–Two children from vastly different backgrounds—one common as clay, artistic and bright; the other precious as amber, wild, and forceful—share stories of hardship and hope, life and death in this historical fantasy told as a Greek tragedy. Born a slave and considered a barbarian by the dominant culture, redheaded Rhaskos is taught to follow orders and never think for himself. Brown-skinned Melisto is born into an affluent Athenian household, but is abused and berated by a mother who wanted a son (or at least an obedient daughter). As the children grow so do their stories, until eventually the two become entangled through the work of the gods and Rhaskos’s long-lost mother. Told from multiple perspectives, mostly in verse with some prose sections, Schlitz’s latest novel is a beautifully crafted, complex masterpiece that unfortunately may be a tough sell for the intended audience. While the god Hermes acts as chorus, providing irreverent interludes as well as much-needed context, he cannot compensate for an often wide gap in the lived experiences of characters—at one point, Melisto’s mother describes her pregnancy and labor—and that of the reader.
VERDICT This is a thoroughly researched, epic tale, but one that may have limited appeal. Share with readers who enjoyed other works by Schlitz or Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins, or for whom Katherine Marsh’s Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is perhaps too mature.

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