Monday, November 20, 2017

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

It’s Christmas Eve, and Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul,12, is walking along 125th Street in Harlem, trying to get home as quickly as he can. Lolly has a new pair of sneakers from his mostly absent dad and he’s not about to let the two older boys following him snatch them off his feet. But when Lolly quickly turns the corner of 125th Street and 8th Avenue, the two boys abruptly stop, because Lolly lives in a world of imaginary protected borders, each border guarded by its own crew, and crews know better than to cross those lines.

Lolly, who is West Indian, lives in the St. Nicholas House, a public housing project on West 127th Street, with his mom and his mom’s girlfriend Yvonne, a security guard in a large toy store. His older brother, Jermaine had gotten involved with a drug dealing crew and was shot and killed outside a Bronx nightclub just a few months back and, while Lolly is still trying to come to terms with his loss, he is also trying to resist the pressure to join a crew.

One thing that Lolly does like is Legos, and he has painstaking put together all kinds of kits, following the instructions to the letter. But late Christmas Eve, he takes them all apart, suddenly wanting to built something else, something of his own. Later, when Yvonne comes home on Christmas morning, she has two garbage bags full of Legos for Lolly, and just in time. Pretty soon, Lolly has built a castle so big his mom is complaining about how much space it is taking up, so he is allowed to build in an empty storeroom in the after school program he goes to, run by Mr. Ali, an understanding, but underfunded social worker.

Soon, Lolly is joined by Big Alice, a special needs student suffering her own family loss, and who never speaks to anyone, but stays by herself reading. In the Lego room, she helps herself to Lolly’s Legos (Yvonne brings him more and more bags full) and begins building her own buildings, which resemble their neighborhood perfectly. At first, Lolly resents Big Alice, but soon the two are taking trips into midtown Manhattan, exploring the different buildings found in a architecture book Lolly was given for Christmas. Eventually, the two begin to build Harmonee, an enormous alien world, together.

All the while, Lolly, and his Dominican best friend, Vega are being harassed by the same two boys who followed Lolly on Christmas Eve. Part of a crew that wants Lolly and Vega to join them, they soon resort to violence as a means of persuasion. And it almost works…but then things in Lolly’s life take another totally unexpected turn.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet is a debut novel for David Barclay Moore. It is an all-to-realistic coming of age contemporary  novel, and Lolly is a wonderfully flawed character full of contradictions (like choosing Legos over video games). As Lolly tries to reassemble his life through the metaphor of Lego building blocks, life on the city streets is also becoming more and more complicated. Luckily, Moore has surrounded him with people who are caring and supportive - his gay mom, Yvonne, who is trying to help him through the grieving process by giving him Legos, the only thing she can do, Mr. Ali, who has recognized that Lolly needs to work through the trauma of losing his brother so violently, even his dad comes through, though not as much as Lolly would like. And their story threads together with those of Lolly, Big Alice, and Vega make this such a full-bodied novel.

Harlem is also as much a character in this novel as anyone, providing a living backdrop for Lolly’s important slice-of-life story. But, the danger those street hold for young men of color like Lolly isn’t something most people know or even think about and Moore has captured it with brutal honesty, compassion, and even humor. 

From the moment I started reading The Stars Beneath Our Feet, I could’t put it down. It may not be a book for everyone, but it is certainly a worthwhile read and, I think, a real eye-opener for many. Moore’s final message in this novel - it is not just family, but also community that can help change things for kids. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf


  1. Our conversation about this really helped me understand it more. I still don't think it's a good fit for my suburban, Midwestern students, but I now know it isn't as "mean" as it seemed to me!

    1. Our conversation, which also helped me, is what prompted me to say it might not be a book for everyone, but I do think kids in urban areas will appreciate what Lolly is going through.

  2. What a clear and detailed review. This book sounds fascinating, and I'm especially compelled to read it after reading the above comments.


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