The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 19th, 2017
Beautifully written and absolutely engrossing, this is a brilliant and powerful story about surviving, and thriving, in the projects of Harlem. While it captures the precarious environment and risks that a young boy encounters, it also captures a sense of community and even joy.
Lolly Rachpaul is twelve and streetwise—he has to be to survive in the Harlem projects where he lives. At the age of twelve, Lolly and his friends are growing out of the relative safety of childhood into the age range where the local gangs, or crews, seek to recruit you, or, attack you. Lolly’s brother was murdered as part of his crew activity and Lolly is struggling to process his violent death. Constantly torn between grief and anger, he knows that his access to the right crew could enable him to seek revenge for his brother, but it will put him on a path that he is not sure he wants to tread.
Lolly’s fragmented family is loving, but not always present, thanks to the stress of making money and dealing with relationships. Lolly finds an outlet for his feelings and creativity in building complex Lego models. When his mother complains that his models are taking over the house, he moves them to an unused room at his after school club, where they become even more ambitious. Lolly builds an entire city from his imagination, complete with characters and a storyline in his head. He is joined—somewhat to his resentment—by Big Rose, a silent outsider at the after school club, who he eventually realizes has an uncanny ability to recreate local architecture.
Lolly’s Lego obsession may start as an escape back into the safety of childhood, as a way to escape the adult challenges that are building pressure on him, but as the story develops, his Lego becomes more than that. It becomes a way of life, a way to come to terms with the world he lives in, and it could be the key to escaping the pressure on him and the gateway to the life he might want to live in in the future.
Fantastic book, packed with remarkable characters, that touches on so many contemporary issues without ever losing sight of Lolly and his struggle to live an honorable life–whatever that might be. Recommended for middle grade readers.