I had just finished The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore and was perusing the comments at Goodreads (I try not to read comments until after I have read the book) and noticed that while many adults were praising the story (which I liked well enough), one young middle school reader wrote the opposite. And her response has me wondering if too many of the books coming out now with cultural diversity are becoming one-trick ponies.
This is some of what this young reader – her name is Lola — wrote:
I don’t see what everyone else sees in this book.
Perhaps that is because I have read so many, many, many books featuring characters dealing with the loss of a loved one? I want to say that is probably the case, but the truth is I constantly read these books and I tend to enjoy them as a general rule.
So what happened? The writing is lovely. It drew me in from the start. I was curious about the story and I certainly could not complain about the cool cover. But it took time for me to understand why there was tension between the characters,
Someone died. Who died? Oh, his brother. Really, how? Well, you’ll have to wait until I’m ready to share that part. Oh, come on, I’d like to understand now, not later. But I’m not ready to share that with you! And what’s up with his father, what’s going on? It’s complicated…
I felt confused a lot. And even when I wasn’t anymore, when the hero finally decided to shed some light on issues, I realized there is absolutely no plot and the little boy is just wandering around, making connections, pretending to be okay, trying to live on after the tragic death of his brother, doing mundane things like buying gifts, ….
Her comments had me thinking to many of the novels I have been reading in the past year or so, since a wave of frustration and lobbying for more diverse books finally began to take hold. There does seem to be a trend now of African American protagonists, from urban communities, dealing with the tragic loss of someone close, with the story of the loss only hinted at until something dramatic happens to bring a sense of understanding to the character.
That’s The Stars Beneath Our Feet. And I enjoyed reading this book, and I was rooting for Lolly (Wallace) as he struggled to deal with the loss of his older brother to gang violence, and resist efforts from his brother’s friends to recruit him into the gang life, and how the building of cities with Legos helped him to understand himself, and others around him.
If our stories are now becoming too predictable — I have also been reading On The Come Up by Angie Thomas, and the echoes of the same storyline are already ringing true, even as I am really enjoying the story and the main character — then we are doing a disservice to young readers, who deserve a variety of narratives — a variety of cultures and protagonists and events, told in a variety of forms — in their reading lives.
That’s something to think about, even as we can celebrate the diversity of books now on our shelves. Read The Stars Beneath our Feet, for sure, and put it on your classroom shelf, but also be attuned to other narratives. Be diverse in culture as well as in stories. We want as rich a tapestry as we can make, and read.
Peace (in the pages),