Starry River of the Sky--review and interview with Grace Lin

Back in 2009, it was my very great pleasure to be part of the Cybils panel that shortlisted Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (before it won its Newbery Honor!).   It was also a pleasure to welcome Grace to my blog as part of Mountain's blog tour.

 So I have been looking forward to Starry River of the Sky (Little, Brown, Oct. 2012, middle grade), the just-released companion novel, very much, and I was awfully pleased to find that I liked it even more than I did Mountain!

Starry River of the Sky tells of a young boy named Rendi, who we meet running away from home in the back of a wine merchant's wagon.  In a village in the middle of nowhere, Rendi is discovered...and forcibly evicted.   His only option now is to work as the chore boy at the village's inn, until he can somehow make it to the big city.  And he is not happy.

His days are spent scowling at the world, but gradually, sharing stories with the odd-ball collection of inn patrons (all two of them), and the innkeeper and his daughter, he begins to reflect on his life, and the choices he made...and to see outside his own unhappiness (and there are good reasons for that unhappiness.  Magistrate Tiger, who readers of Mountain will recognize, plays a huge role in Rendi's story).

But outside the inn all is not well.  In the night, the sound of crying disturbs Rendi's sleep, and the moon has gone missing.   The world is out of balance...and it won't be righted until the truths inside all the stories of myth and magic that Rendi has been hearing at the Inn come together, and the moon is free again.

Although I like a good questy journey, like Minli's story in Mountain, as much as the next reader, I really love stories that stay in one place and make it a home.  And that's what Grace Lin does here--the external dangers are less important that the internal path that Rendi must follow.  On a more personal note, ever since I've been the mother of boys, I've had a soft spot in my heart for unhappy fictional boys who have lost their own mamas, and so Rendi appealed greatly!

Starry River is full of stories within the story, which sometimes irks me, but not here Perhaps because I was expecting it, but mostly I think it's because they were good stories in their own right, as well as holding the threads to the final resolution.  I felt that the ending brought all these threads together beautifully--it certainly required suspension of disbelief, but I felt very well primed to do so.

So in short, I found it a lovely book, word-wise, made even more so by Grace's utterly lovely pictures.

Now it's my pleasure to welcome Grace Lin!

Me: Both the words and the pictures are beautiful-- which gives you the most joy
to create?  Which comes most easily, or does it depend on variables outside
your control?

Grace: Hmm, that is a hard question to answer. To be honest, I get more joy from the process of painting  then the process of writing, but I get the most joy from hearing from readers and they are usually responding to the words. So, in the end it's about even! It's also hard to say which comes easier--it really depends on the book. I dislike the first draft stage of both writing and illustrating so I can't really say
either comes easy, both feel difficult.

Me: Starry River is your first novel with a boy as a main character.  Does writing from a boy's point of view feel different?  Were you conscious of it, or did Rendi just come out on the page in the same way that a girl character would?

Grace: Yes, this is my first novel with a boy protagonist. In some ways he
did just come out on the page. When I began to form the story, it
seemed to demand a boy character even though I am much more
comfortable writing a girl (I have two sisters!). But it did feel
different; I tried very hard to make sure Rendi felt like a true boy
and used my husband a lot to vet him during the revision process.

Me: And speaking of boys, I know from my own first hand experience with my two
sons that boy readers love Where the Mountain Meets the Moon; they haven't
read Starry River yet, but I'm sure they'll enjoy that one too.  My sample
size is limited (just the two of them)-- have you gotten much positive
feedback from boys?

Grace: For Where the Mountain Meets the Moon I most definitely have, which
is very gratifying (too soon for Starry River of the Sky!). I think
when it was first published, there were worries that it would be seen
as only an Asian book or only a girl book, or even worse  only an
Asian girl book--all of which limits the readership considerably. But,
most likely because of the Newbery Honor, that hasn't happened. Boys
and girls of all races have read and loved the book and I have the
letters and e-mails to prove it! The Newbery can erase the perceived
marginal appeal of a book to show its mainstream potential.  I only
hope Starry River of the Sky can gain a similar readership even
without the shiny sticker.

Me: And my fourth question is the really obvious, but very interesting one--what
are you working on next?  Will you take us back to your fantastical China
again (please)?

Grace: I have one more companion novel that I'd like to do. The storyline has
not been figured out yet, though I do have some ideas flitting in and
out of my brain. I really want to do one more because I have this whim
in my head about these books correlating to the Chinese elements.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is linked to sky, Starry River of
the Sky is link to earth and the next one would be linked to water.
This might not happen, of course, but that is what I'd like to do if
the writing muses are willing!

Thank you, Grace!  And thank you Little, Brown, for 
a. publishing the books 
b. sending me a review copy 
c. bringing Grace down to Kidlitcon to talk to us
d. sponsoring everyone's dessert (as reported here).  (The fact the dessert display was utterly sumptuous has, of course, inspired fond feelings in my dessert-loving heart toward Little, Brown, which I will, of course, not allow to influence any of my future reviews in the least little bit).


  1. Another great interview & good link to the KidLitCon wrap up. Thanks-I really want to read this book, & am really happy it has a good appeal for boys, though the first one did too. Thank you!

    1. You are very welcome--thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy it!

  2. Awesome interview. I love Grace Lin's books. You're so lucky you got to interview her. Can't wait to read this and the companion book. I loved Where The Mountain Meets the Moon.

  3. aww, thanks for the nice interview. So glad you enjoyed the book and it was fun meeting you at kidlit con!

    1. And I am so glad you wrote the book, and am glad to have had a chance to say too!

  4. Mountain has been on my To Read list for some time…I really have to get on that! Very cool that you got to interview the author! :)


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