Review of Amber & Clay

Amber & Clay
by Laura Amy Schlitz; illus. by Julia Iredale
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    544 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-5362-0122-2    $22.99

Curation, historical fiction, performance piece — Schlitz (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, rev. 11/07) brings a bundle of learning, artifice, and intentionality to this highly stylized tale of ancient Greece. With the god Hermes as sometimes-narrator (“No. Don’t put down the book…If the lines look like poetry, relax. This book is shorter than it looks”), the plot revolves around Rhaskos, an enslaved boy, and Melisto, an aristocratically born Greek girl — “a wild girl, chosen by Artemis.” For structure, Schlitz curates eighteen “exhibits” — fragments of inscriptions, pottery, and sculpture. As in a museum display or textbook, each has its explanatory note. Each also initiates a section of the story. We follow Rhaskos from his childhood collecting dung to his work as slave to upper-class Menon, when he first encounters Sokrates. We watch as Melisto survives maternal abuse to become one of Artemis’s acolytes, her life ending in an ecstatic, tragic dance, when the two narrative threads — one in verse, one in prose — entwine. Schlitz deploys many voices; Hermes, Rhaskos, Hephaistos, Artemis, Sokrates, and more have their declamations, strophes, and antistrophes, characteristic of a Greek chorus and fitting for oral performance. Scraps of philosophy find a place, as does much information on pronunciation, etymology, the gods, and relevant cultural practice. Ambitious and original, this is stuffed with food for thought, often sparkling with wit and appropriate strangeness.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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