Is there anything in the world as tempting as a fresh pile of Legos, just waiting for you to build something amazing? For twelve-year-old Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, the answer is “definitely not.” Lolly has built with Legos for years, always following the instructions and producing exact replicas of the picture on the box. But after his brother Jermaine is killed and his world seems like it’s closing in, Lolly longs to break free somehow.
So he begins to build, ripping apart his careful replicas and instead creating whole worlds from his imagination. His castles in the sky take over his bedroom and then his mother’s living room, especially when her girlfriend Yvonne starts bringing Lolly sacks of discarded Legos home from the toy store where she works. Eventually, Lolly has to restart his Lego kingdom in a storeroom at his afterschool program. Even worse, he is maneuvered into sharing his space and his precious Legos with a girl nobody seems to like or understand.
It doesn’t make sense to most of his friends and classmates, but the Legos help calm his troubled feelings and loosen the tight knot of “badness” that threatens to come out when he thinks about Jermaine and the fight they had just before he was killed. With the help of the school counselor Mr. Ali, his old friend Vega, and his new friend and building buddy Rose, Lolly tries to construct a new life from the rubble of his old one.
Lolly is a young character going through a great deal of pain and confusion, which could be difficult for a narrator to capture. He is by turns introspective, impulsive, sensitive and obnoxious, as any true preteen is likely to be. Narrator Nile Bullock is in his late teens, and he really goes the extra mile to create the sense of a young boy wrestling with how to become a young man when a pillar of his life has been knocked out from under him. Some parts of the story are not necessarily action-oriented, yet his narration keeps the listener engaged with Lolly and his journey.
Bullock also has fun with the style of the novel. Moore’s depiction of Harlem captures the bustle of the city and the diverse population who call it their home, and Bullock flips accents and lingo to match with ease. He also nails one of my favorite aspects of the story, the marvelous vocabulary words that the students in Lolly’s classes and afterschool program zing back and forth among themselves. One enduring quality of Odyssey Award winners is an elevating match between title and narrator. The Stars Beneath Our Feet and Nile Bullock make a very good team.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet, by David Barclay Moore, read by Nile Bullock. 6 hours, 19 minutes. Listening Library, 2017.