Ask a Bookseller: Epic fates and myth in this novel set in ancient Greece

Cover of 'Amber and Clay'
"Amber and Clay" by Laura Amy Schlitz.
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

We’ll wrap up our month of recommendation for kids and teens and in between with a title geared toward middle schoolers, set in ancient Greece. Rosalind Casey of Books of Wonder in Manhattan recommended “Amber and Clay” by Newberry Medal-winning author Laura Amy Schlitz.

It’s a story of two very different children, bound by fate. Melisto is the daughter of a wealthy Athenian citizen, privileged and willful, who seeks adventure away from the prescribed life of Greek women by spending a season serving Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Rhaskos, meanwhile, is a Thracian slave who spends his days caring for horses that are valued more highly than he is. He is fascinated by arts, beauty and philosophy. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that one of the two characters spends much of the story as a ghost.

“It's really like nothing else I've seen in middle grade recently,” says Casey. “It's also really like nothing else I've seen done at all.”

The novel is told in a mix of prose, poetry and pictures by artist Julia Iredale that are presented like items found in a museum. The story is interwoven with the voices of snarky gods and clever philosophers, bits of Sapphic poetry and recreated Socratic dialogue — and some very funny footnotes. Casey called it a fascinating, hopeful story and said that despite its hefty length of 544 pages, the story moves quickly and sweeps readers along with it.

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