Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver

Amah (the Storyteller): Stories cannot tell all.
The Stonecutter: I disagree. I think stories tell everything.

When the Sea Turned to Silver (2016) by Grace Lin was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and I can definitely see why. This is a gorgeous book from the story itself to the beautifully drawn illustrations. Grace Lin uses stories from Chinese folklore and mythology and weaves them into the current narrative about Pinmei, her grandmother Amah, and her friend Yishan. 

When a new Emperor known as the Tiger Emperor comes to power he is supposed to make a journey up the mountain where Pinmei and her grandmother live. There he will consult with the spirit of the mountain. But this emperor doesn't make it to the top--perhaps he is too full of pride. Perhaps he is too intent on his all-encompassing plan to surround himself with the largest wall ever. So, the only things he takes with him from the mountain are all of the able-bodied men for slaves to build his wall. 

But he also takes Amah, the renowned Storyteller. Now what could an Emperor obsessed with walls want with a Storyteller? When Yishan challenges him and demands that the Emperor leave Amah alone, the Tiger Emperor tells him that he will let Amah go if the boy brings him the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Yishan and Pinmei have many adventures in their quest to find the Stone, most of which mirror or incorporate the many stories that Amah has told them over the years. They also meet many new friends who help them along their journey. Pinmei, who has always been shy, find her own voice to tell the stories that will lead the way and the bravery within to defeat the Tiger Emperor and set her grandmother free.

This book is a beautiful story all on its own--the story of a young girl who finds her own voice and strength as she seeks to help her grandmother. It is also a beautiful blending of folklore and traditions to make a new and absorbing story. Written with great care for language and a luminous style well-suited to the myth and folklore used as a background for this lovely word tapestry.  ★★★★ and a half.

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