Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Although it has been a few months since his older brother Jermaine was killed in a gang-related shooting, Lolly still feels a rock in his chest all the time.  He has always liked building with Legos, but when his mom's girlfriend Yvonne brings him a a huge bag of the blocks from her job at a toy store, Lolly's imagination takes off and he begins making his own world that soon outgrows his apartment in Harlem so he begins building in a store room at his after school program.  Building helps to make the rock disappear but there are other problems in Lolly's life:  Big Rose starts joining Lolly and using his Legos and two older boys are following Lolly and his best friend Vega, threatening to steal their possessions by force if need be.  On top of that, Lolly is carrying a secret about the day Jermaine died that is making him think hard about his future.

I did not find the groove with this book until about two thirds of the way into it.  Up until that point it felt choppy and almost like a series of short stories about Lolly's life rather than a smooth narrative.  "The boys meet a coyote."  "Lolly builds a tower with Rose."  "Dad and his girlfriend arrive."  "Hanging in Vega's room with his cousins."  All of those events felt like disparate stories and didn't seem to be leading much of anywhere.  I also found myself having to re-read quite a bit to figure out what was happening.  Moore includes an author's note about using the language of his characters which might be unfamiliar to readers, but that was not the issue for me.  It was more a matter of sentences without lead-ins or context that left me unsure of how we got to that part of the conversation.   Along those lines (but a different issue) was how Lolly would be addressing a plot point without giving us any information about it beforehand.  For instance, there is almost an entire chapter of Lolly and his mom going to the police station to get Yvonne but Lolly talks about his mom being mad at him and then they are meeting their attorney and the police are interviewing him and all of this is going on without any explanation of what is happening!!  Now I'm a fan of "show, not tell" but you still gotta give me something to work with.  

You may ask yourself "Was there anything she DID like about this book?" The answer is yes, but those things were a bit spread out.  I like that art might be Lolly's way out of the life that is expected for kids in his neighborhood and that art is definitely the way to heal his grief.  I like that Vega makes a choice for his way forward even though it is difficult.  And I can really appreciate the last two sentences of the book and the message therein.  I just feel like there's too much else to wade through to get to that very important message.

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