Inspired by ancient Chinese folklore and woven with both adventure and villainy, When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin is a lyrical, well-told tale, complete with full-color illustrations. It is the tale of Pinmei, a shy girl whose words freeze in her throat at the sight of anyone unfamiliar, and of Yishan, a boy who often forgets he is young and speaks with a confidence and vehemence that belie his youth.
Both Pinmei and Yishan live on a remote mountain, a place of solitude. But the tranquility of their lives is shattered when soldiers come and capture Amah, Pinmei’s grandmother, who is the famous storyteller. People are drawn to Amah, not only for her embroidery skills but to hear her “weave silk threads with her voice” (9). After taking Amah prisoner and setting her hut on fire, the soldiers leave the hut, unaware that Pinmei has been hidden in an empty wine urn. Yishan, who finds the entire situation confusing, discovers Pinmei and learns the anecdote of Amah’s capture.
Hoping to rescue Amah, Pinmei and Yishan set out to find a Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. In exchange for this stone, the emperor promises to release his prisoner. Yishan is not all that he seems to be, but Amah had told Pinmei that she could always trust the boy. Amah also told Pinmei, “When it is time for you to do something, you will do it” (9). That prophesy turns out to be true when the two children embark on a journey that is fraught with adventure and peril as they encounter numerous obstacles, many with legendary proportions. Along the way, various threads of their adventure unravel in stories that Pinmei remembers from Amah’s telling, and they meet many of the once-fabled characters.
These stories not only carry the reader along but ultimately connect to tell their own story. Lin reminds her readers that stories are not only an art form; stories memorialize great people, preserve history, bring joy, foretell events, impart truth, grant immortality, and make time disappear. Just as Amah was honored and respected for her role as Storyteller, Pinmei learns to take her listeners to places only dreamed of, to make them feel sorrow and joy and peace with the magic of her storytelling. With her fantasy-adventure novel, Lin proves that— just like paintings and embroidery—stories come to life with the skill of a master.
- Posted by Donna