One of the most encouraging changes in publishing over the past several years is that big houses are actively acquiring and publishing novels in response to #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What's more, these titles are seeing significant success in the marketplace. Angie Thomas's The Hate You Give has been on the NY Times bestseller list for months!
(I'd like to give a shout out to our very own Linda Williams Jackson, whose Midnight Without a Moon is going to be followed by A Sky Without Stars in January 2018!)
Therefore, I was delighted to receive a copy of The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore. From the eye-catching cover, to the eye-opening story about a boy in the public housing projects in Harlem, this novel did not disappoint.
What It’s About:
“Lolly’s having a hard time knowing how to be without his older brother around. Seems like he’s either sad or mad. The thing that helps most is building. His mom’s girlfriend gave him two huge bags of Legos, and Lolly’s working on an epic city—a project so big it outgrows his apartment.
But there are dangers outside. Older guys who harass Lolly and then jump him and his friend Vega.
What would Jermaine want him to do? Get with a crew and take revenge?
Or build a different kind of world for himself?
Lolly’s going to have to figure this one out on his own.
Things I Liked:
If part of the power of books is to take you to different times and different places, places in which you probably will never set foot, and show you the breadth and depth of humanity, then The Stars Beneath Our Feet succeeds brilliantly.
I was immediately captivated by Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, who lives in the St. Nicholas Projects in Harlem. His older brother has been murdered, and his parents are separated. Lolly feels grief, anger, and alienation. Building a town out of Legos, first in his apartment and later at his after-school program, takes him out of these dark places.
This is a novel with many plots and subplots. It’s about friendship, it’s about accepting differences, and it’s about standing on the precipice of young adulthood and facing a fork in the road.
I was gripped by the subplot which has Lolly and his growing friendship with a girl called Big Rose, whom no one seems to like or understand. Lolly initially sees her as an interloper in the storage room in which he builds his city, but then as they build together, he begins to see her talents. Although Rose claims she is not autistic, she is clearly on the spectrum, with a gift for looking at a building and then exactly recreating it in Lego. Lolly and Rose develop a friendship, visiting buildings in Manhattan and studying architecture.
Life in undeniably hard for Lolly and the other kids in his neighborhood, but they do have dreams and hopes, even if the weight of the world looks set to overpower them. I resonated with the following conversation between Lolly and his best friend, Vega:
"I think it must be hard to be a real artist," Vega said.By the end of this gripping and luminous novel, we discover that these downbeat words of Lolly's do not ring true. Great stuff!
"What you mean?"
"Well, if we was different, you know, been born with money... It's just... making good art and music ain't really expected of us. That type of work is unexpected.
"Yeah," I said. "It wasn't meant for us. But I still think you'll be a good violinist. You are now!"
It smelled like rain. I turned up toward the sky and could see heavy clouds.
"Lolly, I think you'll be a good architect. Or whatever you wanna do."
"Thanks, Vega. We both know I won't ever be nothing." (page 185)
About the Author:
DAVID BARCLAY MOORE was born and raised in Missouri. After studying creative writing at Iowa State University, film at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and language studies at l’Université de Montpellier in France, David moved to New York City, where he has served as communications coordinator for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and communications manager for Quality Services for the Autism Community. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Yaddo, and the Wellspring Foundation. He was also a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
David now lives, works, and explores in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him online at DavidBarclayMoore.com, on Twitter at @dbarclaymoore, and on Instagram at dbarclaymoore.
|Photo by Timothy Greenfield Sanders|