In the circumscribed dystopia of Laura Maylene Walter’s debut novel, Body of Stars, markings on girls’ bodies tell their futures, but one young woman learns to navigate in a new way—by using herself as constellation.
Celeste’s society operates under the rubric of a book titled Mapping the Future: An Interpretive Guide to Women and Girls, and the novel unfolds between excerpts and illustrations from this official guide. Hiding the markings is against the rules, even though the “changeling” markings on adolescents, before they finalize into adult markings, render the girls vulnerable to abduction. Girls are drugged and raped, and images of their markings are sold on black markets. Afterward, the girls are shunned.
The marks on teenager Celeste’s skin indicate that she will work with her brother, Miles, who has spent his whole life learning to read markings, a career forbidden to him because he’s a man. At first, Celeste is, like most girls, careful to fall in line with the plan laid out for her on her skin. But as she grows up, she questions the guide’s wisdom and wants to keep her markings private. By the time she is a changeling, Celeste commits to addressing the dangerous and too-common threat of abduction. When she receives her adult markings, she learns that her fate aligns with Miles’ in tragedy and hope.
The book’s fantastical premise is just distanced enough from reality to make Celeste’s story a tantalizing escape, and yet close enough that its implications are convincing. The characters are down-to-earth, average people, and both men and women face real gender challenges and work together to overcome them. The book’s palpable anger at injustice is met with love—a fierce, familial and able challenger. This is an exciting debut that fans of Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks will want to check out.