Thursday, June 1, 2017

What I'm Reading at Book Expo: David Barclay Moore's The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Needless to say, you have to think carefully about what you take to Book Expo, the annual late spring convention that launches the fall selling season for publishers. Though it's hardly the targeted-to-booksellers convention it once was when run by the American Booksellers Association, I still find it a valuable tool to discover great books and writers. In fact, I've been been going since 1984, and I've only missed two -  1986, which was the year I moved to Milwaukee, and 2009, which is the year we opened Boswell, but don't worry, we sent both Amie and Jason in my stead.

I always have big plans to read ahead, but life and spring events generally get in the way. One book that I read very early that was being touted on Editor's Buzz Panel was Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists, a January 2018 release. I'd like to credit Book Expo for another book I read early, Tom Perrotta's Mrs. Fletcher, but the truth is that I read that one for Winter Institute, which seems, well years ago (it was actually in the winter, of course). It comes out in August.

The truth is that I always think I'll get through my last book and get to pick something special to read on the way to the show, and some years that has actually happened. Jason reminded me I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo bound for BEA. I guess their promise that it was going to be kind of a big book was fulfilled.

But fortunately, the book I was reading when it was time to pack turned out to be an important book at the show anyway. I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the advance reading copy for David Barclay Moore's The Stars Beneath Our Feet, and it finally came about a week before the show. It's set in New York, and who doesn't like reading a book that's set where you're going? I think one of the reasons that Michelle Huneven's Jamesland is one of my favorite books is that I walked around the Los Angeles neighborhood it was set in while I read it. And both Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens and Matthew Thomas's We Are Not Ourselves led me to Queens neighborhoods I had never explored, which was only weird because I grew up in Queens.

I'm going to appropriate my staff rec here for a little plot about The Stars Beneath Our Feet. "Wallace, better known as Lolly, lives in the Harlem projects. His parents are divorced, his brother is dead, his mom has a girlfriend, and two kids just outside the neighborhood are threatening him and his best friend Vega. The thing that keeps him sane through all of this is his Legos, lots and lots of Legos. One day, he stops creating replicas of the kits, and starts building his own stuff. When there’s no more room in the apartment, he turns to the after-school center in the projects, and that’s when he meets Rose, who though very different from Lolly and all his friends, bonds over their shared desire to build stuff. Lolly has to work through his grief over his brother, and still try to figure out how to navigate the projects so he doesn’t go down the same path." Yes, I'm quoting myself. Haven't any number of writers gotten in trouble for plagiarizing themselves?  I don't want to go down that road.

For a middle grade novel, Moore actually keeps a lot of balls juggling. Where is Mom's girlfriend Yvonne getting the Legos from? Why does the rival crew want Vega's cousin to join? Is that girl Sunny exasperated by Lolly or is it something else? What is actually going on with Rose? What did Jermaine do to get himself in touble? And how is Lolly going to come to terms with his love for his brother with the knowledge that he knows that he doesn't want to follow in his footsteps?  I love how this young kid, a smart kid, but still very realistic, has to navigate some complicated adult situations, like who's at fault in his parent's separation? Both his mom and dad get a little time to make their case. And exactly how many mentors does a boy in the projects need? I think I can answer that one for you - as many as possible.

And the idea that Legos might lead a kid to develop a love of architecture? I told fellow bookseller Kay about the book and she told me that's exactly what happened with her son. He loved Legos and he's now in architecture school. Now my high school friend Francie, she loved Legos but her dream was to go to Europe and work for Lego. And she did, but that's another story (for which I don't know the ending, as we haven't talked in many years).

So I was headed to a reception, still thinking about finishing the book, and I passed the Lego store. I had Jason take a picture, but of course it turned out to be a rather un-Lego-y window display. No matter. You get the point.

I'm not the only one loving David Barclay Moore's The Stars Beneath Our Feet. It's been picked as one of the Middle-Grade Buzz Panel books of the show. And back at Boswell, we'll be hosting Mr. Moore for a day of school visits, and if you're excited about that, I'm sad to tell you that they are pretty much booked. If you're an educator, you really need to get on Todd's educator distribution list.  But if you want to meet Moore (and I think once you read the book, you will), we're working with the publicist to create some sort of public, after-school event. And of course you can reserve a copy by clicking on the titles and yes, we can get a copy signed for you this coming September.

If you're at the show, I highly recommend you attend the Buzz Panel on Friday at 11 am, in room 1E where you can hear more from the author's editor. Then Moore himself will be at a panel on Friday at 2. He'll be at the PRH booth at 3:30. I would go, but I have to head back to Milwaukee. I'm attending Chigozie Obioma's event at the Nigerian Community Conference Center at 7 pm (That's June 2, 7 pm). Yes, Milwaukee has a Nigerian Community Conference Center. How cool is that?

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