27 February, 2018

[Review] The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

*2018 Winner of the American Library Association's Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award*

Series: N/A
Release Date: 19 September, 2017
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Genre: Middle Grade/Fiction
ISBN: 9781524701260
Edition: Ebook
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Written: 30 December, 2017
Summary: It's Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren't celebrating. They're still reeling from his older brother's death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly's mother's girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly's always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn't clear—and the pressure to join a "crew," as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge—of adolescence, of grief, of violence—and shows how Lolly's inventive spirit helps him build a life with firm foundations and open doors.

See more at David Barclay Moore's Website.

I first saw the information about this book in a Shelf Reading newsletter back in September I believe. The book had just been released, and there was a fair amount of buzz around it. Intrigued because the main character uses Lego bricks as a way to deal with his grief and find acceptance in his brother’s death, I threw the suggestion for the book onto the shared Overdrive of my library and several others in the state. I’ve suggested a number of things to the libraries, so I wasn’t overly hopeful about seeing this book be added, however I will admit I was delighted when I received the email telling me that it had been checked out to me.

Lolly Rachpaul starts out as a tween who’s world was shattered only months before. His brother, Jermaine, was shot in a gang-related fight earlier in the year. Lolly feels, in some ways, responsible because he and Jermaine had had a fight shortly before Jermaine’s death. This feeling of guilt has been eating Lolly alive since then, and he’s uncertain what he wants to do with the pressure of a “crew” building around him. His only solace has been his many Lego kits that he tends to build meticulously by their blueprints. Even this has lost its appeal lately however. After opening a gift from his late brother, Lolly is spurred into attempting to create something new with his legos, tearing his kits apart so he can build something new. This is spurred on by his mother’s girlfriend, Yevonne who brings home a bag of “discarded” lego bricks to try and cheer him up.

Throughout the novel, Lolly continues to build his new project, a city of his own creation. He only moves it once, from his mother’s living room (after she gets annoyed that it’s taking over) to a storage closet at his afterschool program. Though he tries to keep his buildings secret, Lolly’s world is almost shattered again when Big Rose, a girl at the after school who is homeschooled by her Grandmother and presumed to be autistic or something similar, forces her way into the closet and begins to build her own world. Though it’s shaky at first, the pair form a friendship, strengthened when Lolly realizes she’s building the buildings of their city from memory. The pair go around the city looking at architecture together after Rose shows up in time to keep a pair of a street crew from stealing Lolly’s phone.

The beginning of the end to this happy era however is when Lolly and Rose are informed that they’ll have to completely pull their creations down to vacate the space they’ve been building in. The room has been assigned to a Yoga class and they can no longer leave the building up. This leads to a block party where someone takes pictures of the few pieces they’ve brought out to showcase during an end of school party. Through this Rose and Lolly get a request from the toy store downtown to build a lego display in the window.

These plans fall through however because Rose is reported to the state and ends up taken away from her grandmother to a home outside of New York where some distant relatives live and she can get the help she needs. It also comes out that Yevonne has been stealing the Lego bricks from her employer instead of them being discarded as originally believed. Though the employer ultimately decides not to press charges, the offer to build in the window is revoked.

Honestly, this book had me in tears in places, I was uncertain what where it would take me and if I would be able to relate. While I cannot say that I could relate the main character closely, I could appreciate the struggle he had in coming to terms with his grief. I definitely will be adding this book to the collection at my library with the hope that the teens I serve might be able to relate to Lolly’s struggle with the grief and choice of how to move forward with life.

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