Ishmael lives on a dry, barren farm in a drab, gray world.
One day, a strange beam of brilliant light breaks through the monotony. Ishmael’s never seen anything like it before—it seems to have a life of its own—and he can’t find the words to describe it. “Light span? Ribbon of brightness? Shiny flash?” When the light separates into seven disparate bands, it comes to him: “splintered light.” “It’s only light,” Mam says; she can’t see its uniqueness. The only person who might understand Ishmael’s curiosity and excitement is his older brother, Luc, who left home four years ago. Against Mam’s wishes, the 11-year-old travels to the Commons, the seat of creation, where reality is shaped. Finding Luc, who is training to be a color keeper, Ishmael discovers that splintered light is the color spectrum and not everyone can see it. When Ishmael accidentally prevents Luc from carrying out his dream, he tries to make things right, but nothing goes as it should. Johnson takes a familiar coming-of-age arc and wraps it in a gorgeously built world that asks readers to plumb the nature of creation. The book is divided into five parts, each beginning with an epigraph from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ode to creation, “Pied Beauty,” but, like the intricate worldbuilding, the words may need multiple reads for total comprehension. Racial differences are hinted at in descriptions of hair texture and physiognomy, but within this world's limited palette, the book adheres to the white default.
A beautiful world for patient readers to explore. (Fantasy. 8-13)