Amber and Clay (Hardcover)

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By Laura Amy Schlitz, Julia Iredale (Illustrator)
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The Newbery Medal–winning author of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! gives readers a virtuoso performance in verse in this profoundly original epic pitched just right for fans of poetry, history, mythology, and fantasy.

Welcome to ancient Greece as only genius storyteller Laura Amy Schlitz can conjure it. In a warlike land of wind and sunlight, “ringed by a restless sea,” live Rhaskos and Melisto, spiritual twins with little in common beyond the violent and mysterious forces that dictate their lives. A Thracian slave in a Greek household, Rhaskos is as common as clay, a stable boy worth less than a donkey, much less a horse. Wrenched from his mother at a tender age, he nurtures in secret, aided by Socrates, his passions for art and philosophy. Melisto is a spoiled aristocrat, a girl as precious as amber but willful and wild. She’ll marry and be tamed—the curse of all highborn girls—but risk her life for a season first to serve Artemis, goddess of the hunt.

Bound by destiny, Melisto and Rhaskos—Amber and Clay—never meet in the flesh. By the time they do, one of them is a ghost. But the thin line between life and death is just one boundary their unlikely friendship crosses. It takes an army of snarky gods and fearsome goddesses, slaves and masters, mothers and philosophers to help shape their story into a gorgeously distilled, symphonic tour de force.

Blending verse, prose, and illustrated archaeological “artifacts,” this is a tale that vividly transcends time, an indelible reminder of the power of language to illuminate the over- and underworlds of human history.

About the Author

Laura Amy Schlitz is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village; the Newbery Honor Book and New York Times bestseller Splendors & Glooms; The Hired Girl, recipient of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award; and several other books for young readers. A teacher as well as a writer, Laura Amy Schlitz lives in Maryland.

Julia Iredale is an artist who works as a freelance illustrator for clients around the world. Her work is informed by her love of mythology, dark fantasy, and human psychology, weaving these together to create beautiful, mysterious characters and worlds. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Praise For…

An artistic enslaved boy, “common as clay,” and a free-spirited girl, “precious as amber,” become “linked together by the gods” in this drama of ancient Greece. . . Lyrically descriptive, surprisingly contemporary in feel, and laced with allusions to Greek mythology, history, and epic stories, the narrative offers a realistically diverse, colorful portrait of an ancient Greece in which slavery and warfare were prevalent. Black-and-white illustrations of archaeological artifacts add insight and depth to this meticulously researched story. A rich, complex, deftly crafted tale of friendship, creativity, and being true to oneself.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Curation, historical fiction, performance piece—Schlitz brings a bundle of learning, artifice, and intentionality to this highly stylized tale of ancient Greece. . .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. . . Ambitious and original, this is stuffed with food for thought, often sparkling with wit and appropriate strangeness.
—The Horn Book (starred review)

In a lyrical verse novel packed with ancient myths and well-defined characters, Schlitz (The Hired Girl) takes readers to ancient Greece to tell the saga of two children, virtual strangers, who form a bond extending beyond life. . .the book is as meticulously researched as Schlitz’s previous novels, as evidenced in detailed descriptions of settings and lifestyles. Her exploration of the human condition (“Nobody ever gets out of anything”) delves into both characters’ psyches through a pensive, contemporary-feeling narrative that easily propels readers along.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Schlitz anchors this astonishing work of historical fiction in Greek tradition: ancient gods and philosophers narrate (Sokrates appears throughout); she makes use of epic verse and literary devices from Greek plays (described in the extensive backmatter); references to Homer are threaded through the text. She offers context for modern readers, elaborating on ancient Greece as a slave society, while Iredale's black-and-white illustrations give glimpses of artifacts. Like its two central figures, this luminous creation is far more than the sum of its parts.
—Booklist (starred review)

This is an ambitious but tightly plotted tale, with narration spun in ancient Greek poetic and dramatic forms and familiar contemporary prose. . .YA readers who fondly recall bygone days curled up with Rick Riordan novels will be a prime audience for Schlitz’s opus, particularly if they’re up for a literary challenge.
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Melisto, "electric as amber," and Rhaskos, "indestructible as clay," are as surprising a pairing as any in literature, ancient or modern, and their story is both epic in nature and scrupulous in detail. Amber & Clay is a true marvel.
—Shelf Awareness

Laura Amy Schlitz has done it again—this time immersing readers in the ancient and mythological Greek world. Richly textured, Amber and Clay intersperses poetry, prose, and artifacts to powerful effect. This is a narrative worthy of the gods!
—Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, a Newbery Award Honor Book

Volcanic in power, virtuosic in form, peerless in nuanced execution, Amber and Clay is compulsively readable. I was in thrall to its lyric and threnody at breakfast and at lunch and going up the stairs. The muse chose right in inspiring Laura Amy Schlitz to give us this haunting tale of duty, liberty, art, and friendship.
—Gregory Maguire, New York Times best-selling author of Wicked

It’s so great to read this. Schlitz is such a bold and intelligent writer. It’s a beautifully written tale.
—David Almond, Hans Christian Andersen Award–winning author of The Tightrope Walkers

Reading Amber and Clay is like passing through a river into a country that you thought you knew, only to learn that it is both familiar and deeply strange, beautiful and very unsettling. You will find a thrilling archaeological mystery, uncovered piece by broken piece. And you will find two difficult children, struggling to find their place in the world, who grow in the most unpredictable ways. Amber and Clay is a masterpiece. Pass through the river, but know this: you can never pass back through the same river. Because even if the river were somehow the same, you won’t be.
—Adam Gidwitz, author of The Inquisitor’s Tale, a Newbery Honor Book

An original, intriguing, and beautifully worked-out story that brings the ancient past most vividly to life. Top marks for great illustrations, too.
—Adèle Geras, author of Troy, a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor winner

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes Laura Amy Schlitz, like a lightning bolt from Mount Olympus, to deliver a book that is a nearly perfect nesting doll of brilliantly imagined narratives. With the help of none other than Sokrates himself, Amber and Clay transports the reader to fifth century bce Athens to confront complex questions about how we mortals manufacture shadowy Truths from our incomplete knowledge and flawed perceptions. But the simple spark holding this epic historical adventure together is the unconquerable certainty and resilience of love. It is a love ‘as precious as amber and as common as clay.’ I am in love with this lyrical novel, its snarky Greek gods, haunting ghosts, archaeological artifacts, and vivid world-building. I swear to the gods, when I was finally able to put this book down, it continued to hum and crackle with electricity.
—Allan Wolf, author of The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep
Product Details
ISBN: 9781536201222
ISBN-10: 1536201227
Publisher: Candlewick
Publication Date: March 9th, 2021
Pages: 544
Language: English