Laura Maylene Walter’s new book, Body of Stars, is set in a vividly imagined alternate reality that feels eerily familiar. In the novel, women and girls have natural markings on their bodies, which can be used to predict the future. Because men do not have access to their own futures, they are fascinated with women’s bodies, and although markings make women powerful, the structure of their society serves to restrict women in a variety of ways. The novel follows siblings Celeste and Miles as they contend with the challenges that arise along with society’s restrictions.
Although having your future outlined on your skin may seem appealing, it’s also incredibly dangerous. When puberty hits, girls experience a change in their markings. During the time of transition, “changelings” are magnetic and therefore vulnerable. Changeling girls are frequently kidnapped and trafficked, only to be returned when their shine has worn off.
Despite society’s obsession with women’s markings, there is no way to predict which girls will be abducted. In the novel, abductions are blamed entirely on victims, unlike other aspects of women’s lives. Girls who have been abducted struggle to remain in school due to slut shaming and bullying. If they do manage to finish high school, they are often barred from attending college, and their job prospects are similarly limited. Celeste comes face to face with these concerns early in the novel as her sixteenth birthday approaches and friends begin to experience their changes.
Luckily, Celeste’s brother, Miles, has discovered a solution with the help of his mentor. There may be a way to predict abductions after all, but Miles’s theory is not readily accepted because he is male. While women are restricted in many ways, men are also limited by their gender. Interpretation of markings is seen as an exclusively female realm, and although Miles is a gifted interpreter, he is prevented from formally joining the profession, and governing bodies refuse to recognize his theory.
While some aspects of the novel may seem far-fetched, Body of Stars explores the ways in which a person’s physical form can shape their experience of the world. Most women and many men know that this is true because they experience it daily. Body of Stars makes that experience literal, giving it a concrete anchor and making it uniform throughout the novel’s culture. Because it starts from the premise that all people are affected to some extent by gender- and appearance-based biases, the novel can start to explore how those effects are harmful. In the real world, some people still dismiss the idea that a person’s physical body can change the way they move through the world. In Body of Stars, though, each character struggles to find space for themselves within their predictions and limitations.
Throughout the novel, both Miles and Celeste look for ways to accept the world around them while also pushing for something better. The siblings do work together, but their relationship has tension and secrets as well. Walter does an excellent job of depicting a believable sibling relationship, and we see Miles and Celeste cooperate while also questioning one another.
There are several moments in the novel when a character beautifully expresses one of Walter’s main points. My favorite of these is a statement by Miles’s mentor about whether or not the future can be changed. She says, “The future will come for you as it intends….That is undeniable. With time, however, you’ll see that your actions might make a difference. Not a dramatic difference, but even the slightest change might be meaningful…. Think of it as wind moving through the leaves of a tree.” Celeste doesn’t understand this when she first hears it, but for readers, the meaning becomes clear as we read about Celeste and Miles. We cannot change the world with one individual action, but that doesn’t make our individual actions meaningless.
Body of Stars
By Laura Maylene Walter
Published March 16, 2021