Title: The Stars Beneath Our Feet
Author: David Barclay Moore
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books For Young Readers
Publication Date: 19 September 2017
Rating; 2.5 stars
Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of changes that have occurred in the final version.
I am not a well-read reader when it comes to middle grade novels and so this book did not suit me so well due to the level at which it was at. But this was a book that I wish had been put in my hands when I was in that middle-grade books stage, just to see black kids not for any other reason. This book and its characters came alive with its cast of marginalized characters. I loved reading a book with children that were so…real and delightful. I loved the descriptions of Lolly’s world and the adventures that he went on. I loved seeing his evolution throughout the story and seeing him grapple with the darkness within himself. That was something that I want to spend time thinking about and that I personally haven’t really seen in the books that I have read. I have seen characters deal with dark circumstances and insecurities, like anyone else. But dealing with the darkness coming from within that sprouted from those circumstances, I don’t know if what I am saying will make any sense or sound any different but it was different. Moore made it so…fresh even when parts could come off as trite. I loved how for most of the novel though some parts were shorter than others, most of it wasn’t filler. The varied vernacular was…stimulating from time to time. I loved Rosamund, especially. She was beautiful and complex, though I am unsure of the accurate representation of autism, sometimes it made me uneasy, and am not sure how correctly it was done. Someone else would have to weigh in that was actually autistic.
Now for the things I didn’t love. Some circumstances in the last few chapters seemed unnecessary and gave off an annoying, filler vibe. There was a cast of queer characters within this novel. If I’m giving Moore the benefit of the doubt, I would say it was to normalize or to include a realistic variety of characters considering the setting is where one might expect a variety of people. However, the way these characters are portrayed is unsettling. Moore chose to include caricatures. I wish I knew why. These characters were not respected or treated with decency in this novel. They were constantly picked at, poked, and degraded. I’m not saying that that isn’t real life. I’m just saying the way that was portrayed made me uneasy. He (referring to Moore) seemed to be trying to regard these characters with respect but failed miserably.
Jonathan got constantly mentioned but almost no development or anything really attached to him besides being called “limp wrist” on repeated occasions. The reader will never learn much of who he really is, just see other characters make fun of him in what maybe is supposed to be affectionate but really just comes off as the characters being disgusted with him for nothing besides his identity. There was no breakdown of discrimination in this novel, at least when it came to Jonathan. There was no setup of characters saying these things and then someone speaking out against it. It just was silently carried along and that validated it in a way that could be considered hurtful but maybe some would just shrug at. I don’t really think it is a healthy thing for kids to be exposed to and could just perpetuate the cruelty of making fun of boys that come off in a way that is different than the others which always leads to bigger problems as we should all be well aware of by now.
Aston Stewart was all right, in that the character seemed confident, but he was wronged in this novel every step of the way, by the other adults he interacted in this novel and subconsciously by Lolly? I found it very confusing especially considering Lolly’s mother, which you will find out in the first pages of the novel, should technically be more accepting of Aston. I found the reactions when Aston was introduced appalling.
Butteray Jones was made fun of which made me uneasy for kids like him reading this novel. I feel like any attempt to try to support him afterwards in this novel was half-baked and not well done in a way that would combat the already negative message and its impact. I don’t think any of the malice in this book was intended,because no one could be this bad, but it is there and I found it nauseating and it was perplexing. I felt like there was some back and forth underlying message that ended up being unclear static. It didn’t fit to me since the book was going so well to stop every once in a while to include characters and basically knock them down.
This book will end up, unfortunately, sending a message to children that are like the characters that were made fun of that there is something wrong with them. That they might be sort of accepted but remind them that who they are could never be, at least not completely and might encourage other children to make fun of them which, as I said before, always leads to more problems that keep on the hateful society that we are burning in now.
And since the book is so lovely in other aspects, I found it a combination of deeply disparaging and confusing. If queer characters are just going to be made fun of, why even include them? It just clouds the positive message that you were trying to send with fat raindrops of negativity that might be found imperceptible to some but what about those who pick up on that message? What then for them? I hope that Moore improves his handling of characters not like himself. No one can be perfect, of course, but this book would have been way better with a little help from sensitivity readers who would have caught these details. This book was, in the end, bittersweet. It was full of the potential to be beautiful and to bloom and bloom it started, and then suddenly stopped midway and wilted. I will recommend it but only for those who wouldn’t be triggered or as deeply disappointed by this sort of message being put out during this time or those that do not notice or are not good at paying attention to details and reoccurring underlying messages.