In David Barclay Moore’s stunning debut novel, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, 12-year-old Harlem resident Lolly Rachpaul is about to endure his first Christmas without his older brother, who died months earlier in a gang-related shooting. As Lolly approaches his teen years, he’s pressured to join a neighborhood “crew” just like his brother did — knowing that it would offer him protection, but also a dangerous life. When his mom’s girlfriend gives him two bags of LEGOs and no instructions, he has to figure out how to build things on his own — just like he’s trying to do in the real world.
To get a taste of The Stars Beneath Our Feet before it hits shelves on Sept. 19, EW can exclusively reveal an excerpt from chapter one, below:
Excerpt from Chapter One of The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
What I couldn’t get out of my skull was the thought of their rough, grimy hands all over my clean sneaks. What I couldn’t get out of my heart was this joy-grabbing stone I felt there. Partly because of these two thugs trailing me now, but more because I knew Jermaine wouldn’t be here to protect my neck this time.
He would never, ever be coming home.
My daddy, Benny Rachpaul, had bought me these sneakers when I turned twelve over the summer. I wasn’t about to let two older boys strolling down 125th Street snatch them off me.
Besides me being humiliated by it, my mother would whup my butt if she knew I had let some dudes swipe my shoes. And then, when he found out, Daddy Rachpaul would drive over and whup me again.
I flipped up the collar of my blue parka and continued down 125th Street, but rushed my step a little bit more. I heard the two boys following me quicken their pace. Their footsteps behind me crunched on the ice that much faster. My heart was beating faster too.
The streets around me were cheery, though. Harlem’s main street was laid out tonight with bright lights, and Christmas tunes played constant on loudspeakers. I guess to put you more in the Christmas spirit.
But for me, there was nothing, and I mean nothing, that would ever make me feel Christmassy again. I was through with it.
Done with all of the Christmas music, wreaths, ornaments and happy holiday shoppers. I had decided weeks ago that I would never be happy again.
Because it wasn’t fair.
Wasn’t fair to get robbed of somebody I thought would be there for the rest of my life. Someone who was supposed to spend this Christmas with me, plus lots more Christmases!
It also wasn’t fair that I couldn’t even walk down 125th Street without being harassed. Rushing along down the sidewalk, I glanced up at all the men who were passing. All of them older and most of them Black like me. I was the youngest one out here and one of the few who felt scared to walk down this street.
For us young brothers, taking a stroll down here, even on Christmas Eve, was not relaxing at all. I felt like I had put my life on the line, straight up.
All of these old dudes lived in a different world from me.
I crossed the street and dipped into a gift shop on the corner. Grinning wide smiles, my two “buddies” waited for me outside, one of them sitting down on a fire hydrant and wiggling his fingers at me like I was a little infant in a stroller.
I sucked my teeth and turned toward the salesclerk.
“Happy holidays, my young man,” the clerk said. “Help you find something?” For a minute, his eyes peeped outside at the two boys waiting. He frowned at them.
I watched them leave and sighed with relief. The clerk cocked his bald head to one side.
“I need an excellent Christmas gift,” I said. “One for my mother, and another one for her, um, friend. And for my father. But I don’t have much money.”
“Last-minute shoppers,” he said, smiling at me. “Come on. We’ll get you straightened up. You’re lucky we’re open this late on Christmas Eve—125th Street is shutting down.”
125th is a big street that runs from the East River on the east side of Manhattan to the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. The street cuts right through the neighborhood of Harlem and is where most of the main stores and shops and businesses are. The Apollo Theater, the Adam Clayton Powell Building and the Studio Museum are all lined up along 1-2-5. If Harlem was a human body, then 125th would be its pumping heart, throbbing all the time.
I don’t know what the neighborhood’s brain would be.
As I flew back toward home, I suddenly realized how heavy the gifts were that I had just bought in that shop. Ma and Yvonne would both be happy, I hoped. And Daddy, with his gift too.
But the bag handle cut into my fingers.
And just as I switched the plastic shopping bag to my other hand, I saw them. Across the wide blacktopped, slushy street, those two older boys had caught sight of me again. I started to step even faster down 125th Street, toward St. Nick, hoping I could make it to the border before they could catch me.
Where I live, it’s all about borders.
When you’re a little kid in Harlem, you can pretty much go anywhere and do anything as long as you’re careful. But when you start to get old—about my age, twelve—things start to change.
You can’t go everywhere.
You got to start worrying about crews. Crews are like cliques. Groups of mostly boys, and sometimes females, who hang out together. Mostly for fun, but for protection too. And each crew got its territory in their neighborhood. And if you ain’t from that hood, or a member of that set, you need to stay out.
When I was young, I used to have a friend over on East 127th Street. His name was Cody. We used to play boxball and dodgeball on East 127th all the time, even though I lived on the West Side.
Nowadays when I see Cody and he’s with his crew, we don’t talk at all. He just glares at me like I’m about to get jumped. He does it because we live in different places and we’re old now.
That’s how crews work.
So tonight, when I finally turned off of 125th and onto Eighth Av’, the boys following me had to stop right there. There wasn’t no real roadblock set up for them. If they had really wanted to, they could’a kept on following me, right up the block and straight into St. Nick projects.
But if they’d done that, somebody would’a jumped them boys.
Excerpt copyright © 2017 by David Barclay Moore. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved.