I was at work when I learned about the latest mass shooting. We heard again that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen around here.” Clearly, it does happen around here, more and more often. And it’s been happening around here for a while. We’re not really even surprised by it.
I’d been reading The Stars Beneath Our Feet for a few days, and while it’s set in New York — which might seem far away to anyone knowing where I live – it’s not far away at all. I recognize these kids, having worked in a program similar to the one described in the book, just out here in good ol’ Iowa. They’d lost family members to gun violence and drugs, and some lived every day with traumatic pain, not seeing any way to get out of it all. Some of my favorite kids could be Lolly and Vega and Big Rose.
I wish they had all known Lolly and this book. It might have given us one more way to talk about the really awful choices in front of them, things adults all want them to avoid and resist, but which, like Harp and Gully, just kept landing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of them, unavoidable. My own Lolly, much loved by his family and friends, didn’t make the same choices and will most likely be incarcerated for many years, missing his kids’ birthdays and everything else. His decisions will ripple out to affect even more people. The pain just spreads.
After finishing the book, it struck me that these tragedies — mass shootings or gun violence in our neighborhoods – they’re not so far away from any of us, whether we’re in the suburbs or the city or a small town. We act like one thing is different from another, but maybe it isn’t. And as a country, we don’t do anything about either, no matter how many lives are ruined and wasted on it all.
This should probably have filled me with sadness and hopelessness, but it didn’t. Lolly’s story, you see, is like a rainbow of Legos reaching out to us across that pain. (I like the image, although I know it’s a little silly on paper.) It needs to be read by all kids, whether they sound and look like Lolly or not. Kids in small town and urban Iowa may look or sound different, but they live their own stories with strikingly similar challenges.
Can a book change the world or a life? It can. This one just might.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore