Body of Stars

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Pub Date 16 Mar 2021 | Archive Date 25 Mar 2021
Hodder & Stoughton, Hodder Studio

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'We have a new The Handmaid's Tale... an exciting new literary voice with a dazzling imagination' EMMA KENNEDY
'Compelling, menacing and ultimately uplifting, I fell headlong into the world of Body of Stars' SARAH WARD
'Rapturously written and wildly original, Laura Maylene Walter's debut novel maps the dreams and nightmares of girlhood' EMILYY SCHULTZ
'What a gift Laura Maylene Walter has given us in Body of Stars' ANNE VALENTE

No future, dear reader, can break a woman on its own

A bold and dazzling exploration of fate and female agency in a world where women own the future but not their own bodies.

Like every woman, Celeste Morton holds a map of the future in her skin, every mole and freckle a clue to unlocking what will come to pass. With puberty comes the changeling period - when her final marks will appear and her future is decided.

The possibilities are tantalising enough for Celeste's excitement to outweigh her fear. Changelings are sought after commodities and abduction is rife as men seek to possess these futures for themselves.

Celeste's marks have always been closely entwined with her brother, Miles. Her skin holds a future only he, as a gifted interpreter, can read and he has always considered his sister his practice ground. But when Celeste's marks change she learns a devastating secret about her brother's future that she must keep to herself - and Miles is keeping a secret of his own. When the lies of brother and sister collide, Celeste determines to create a future that is truly her own.

Body of Stars is an urgent read about what happens when women are objectified and violently stripped of choice - and what happens when they fight back.

'Part allegory, part warning, and part celebration of the female body, this is a thrilling and flawlessly crafted debut about the potential women have to hold magic, make magic, and change the course of history with the underestimated weapons of intelligence and love.' Courtney Maum, , author of Touch and Costalegre

'Body of Stars sparks with tenderness and beauty, and Walter's writing on the female body is genuine art. A thought-provoking exploration of fate and forced binaries, this is a book that lingers.' Erika Swyler, author of Light from Other Stars and The Book of Speculation

'Laura Maylene Walter's Body of Stars will be enjoyed as a novel that employs the fantastic to inventively explore both the victimization and the power of women in a world very much like our own, but its central pleasure and achievement may be its depiction of a complicated and extraordinarily moving sibling relationship. In Walter's generous and capable hands, Miles and Celeste remind us that love often means damage, and that the true test of love is not avoiding that damage, but repairing it when we've caused it.' Karen Shepard, author of Kiss Me Someone

'A tender rebuke to the idea that biology is destiny, Body of Stars explores the boundaries of family, identity, and predestination. Through the lens of a complex coming-of-age story, Laura Maylene Walter asks us to consider how we can make the future matter when it seems like we already know its outlines, and what the difference is between the destiny of an individual and the fate of a society.' Adrienne Celt, author of Invitation to a Bonfire

'We have a new The Handmaid's Tale... an exciting new literary voice with a dazzling imagination' EMMA KENNEDY
'Compelling, menacing and ultimately uplifting, I fell headlong into the world of Body of...

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ISBN 9781529349191
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Featured Reviews

Body of Stars is a superb debut by Laura Maylene Walter. It will inevitably appeal to readers of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Grace Year, but Body of Stars is in a league all of its own and to compare is to suggest that there is an element of repetition and that is certainly not the case. The author has succeeded in building an intricate world both similar and alien to our own. In this world women hold a “blueprint for their life mapped on their skin” in freckle-like marks. These maps remain the same until around their 16th birthday where they enter their ‘changeling’ period. As a changeling the girls become irresistible to men and must be careful to protect themselves by dressing modestly and not going out on their own at night in case they are abducted by a man who cannot help himself. Our protagonist, Celeste is about to enter this exciting and dangerous period of her life. She and her brother Miles have always been close and his wish to enter the female field of Interpretation has meant that her markings have never belonged to just her. Then her adult markings come in she learns a devastating secret about Miles’ future, one she knows she must keep to herself. With Miles also keeping a secret from her will her future every really be known? There is so much to discuss in Body of Stars so I will start by saying that yes this is another dystopian book about women who have been stripped of their autonomy by both the men in their life and by society in general. However, it is also unlike any book of its kind. It is thought provoking and complicated read and is an open critique of the cultural and institutional bias existing around victims of rape. I have seen some reviews complaining about the level of involvement of Miles in her story but that is missing the point somewhat. Surely it serves to further illustrate the lack of agency she has over her own body when her father and brother both violate her need for privacy due to a belief that they have a right to see her markings. Also, without wishing to place any spoilers in the review I will just note that whilst Miles does play some small part in it, any change comes solely from Celeste and the work she carries out. The opening passage was fantastic and drew me in immediately: “From the time of my birth my brother Miles read me like a map, tracing my patterns of freckles and birthmarks to see my future and to learn something of his own. In those early years, my body was as much his as it was mine. To share meant letting him lift the base of my tank top or sweater so he could search my skin for a hint of what was to come.” This passage really packed a punch and made me feel uncomfortable. I knew I would love the book from this moment on. These markings on the body exist only on women and girls although there are some urban legends of men who choose to tattoo markings onto their skin and woman who try to mutilate their bodies to hide their markings. The markings are interpreted using a book called Mapping The Future: An Interpretive Guide to Women and Girls. Young girls can also chose to go to the Interpretive District for readings although this also includes fraudsters who claim to read the future by using tarot cards, tea leaves or crystal balls. It is generally considered to be an unsafe area though due to the high number of girls who go missing in the area after dark. In school the girls have to submit to yearly readings of their markings by a government employee unless they sign a form to say they object but this can affect future employment and educational opportunities. Just as those girls who were abducted during their changeling period and then returned to their families would have limited opportunities going forward. “It was a certain kind of girl who let herself get caught by men: the rebellious kind, the flirty kind, the kind who flaunted her future. I had grown up believing that. We all had.” In this book there is a victim shaming around the victims of abduction which clearly mirrors the victim shaming which exists for rape victims in our society. “The story was an old one. The best we could do was warn changelings not to go out alone at night, to stay within the safety of a group, to dress chastely during those dangerous few weeks. Girls were considered women as soon as they changed, so we were expected to shoulder that responsibility to put forth the effort to protect ourselves.” The implication being that anything that befell them would be their fault and not that of the men involved. I often felt deep rage whilst reading this book and that is a clear sign that this was an excellent book because I cared so deeply about the fate of the protagonist. I could rant on and on about how excellent this book is but I am afraid I would inadvertently give away a spoiler so I will end with one of my favourite quotes from the book and a reminded that Body of Stars is one to watch out for. “More than anything, I wished those girls to have the ability to command their own lives, no matter what was marked on their skin. I wanted them to be liberated, and unafraid, and brimming with potential and possibility. But that wasn’t how the world worked for girls and women. Instead, we were made vulnerable through no fault of our own and held liable for the crimes committed against us. We were born already broken.”

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This is a very original and highly interesting novel. The idea that markings on female bodies can predict the future is intriguing, and is used to open out discussions regarding the surveillance, appropriation and exploitation of women in culture. The setting of the novel is intriguing, since it seems to take place in a familiar version of America, but one that bears more similarities to the 1950s than the 21stC - there are no mobile phones or advanced computer technology, for example. Within this slightly archaic context, feminism as we know it doesn't seem to have happened - indeed, how could it, given that the future is immutable, written as it is on women's bodies? The novel is well written, and its world-building is solid. I did, however, slightly struggle with the idea of a set future, particularly in relation to one of the main characters whose fate is determined early on. And I was frustrated that the Mountain School, which is one of the novel's most important sites - and one in which many of the rules pertaining to this version of the world were transgressed - wasn't fleshed out more. I'd have liked to have known more about that place. Nevertheless, I'd not hesitate to recommend this book, which could lead to interesting debates about female embodiment, and who has access to female bodies (and thus the right to 'read' them) in culture.

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I loved this book - set in a dystopian time and place close to our own, and with a cast of interesting characters, this is a new and exciting read about the power of women and their bodies. Celeste is like any other prepubescent girl, enjoying life and school, and awaiting the arrival of puberty. However for the females of this world, their skin is marked, and those freckles and spots mark their future - career, family life, fate... the childhood markings change overnight once they reach the changeling period, where they become irresistible young women, a dangerous role to inhabit until they reach the safety of womanhood. Celeste's brother Miles is intrigued by the markings, and attempts to make his mark as a male interpreter, a role only filled by women. One of the markings on Celeste's newly changed body will change their futures...

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing my with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. In a world where a girl’s future is foretold by the markings on her skin, Celeste feels secure knowing that her fate is mapped out for her. As she approaches her Changeling period - when she will wake up one day with her adult markings in place and becoming briefly irresistible to men, she starts to question the way that girls’ bodies don’t seem to belong to them, and the rules that she is expected to obey. When a shocking revelation leads to disastrous events outside of her control, will she have the strength to survive and fight back? This fascinating look at female bodily autonomy deals with some very serious topics such as abduction, rape and victim shaming. Thought provoking and at times shocking, this book is an important feminist read. Although it deals with such difficult themes, following Celeste’s journey is empowering as you root for her to overcome the adversities she faces as a young girl in such a controlling world. Highly recommended, especially for readers who enjoyed books such as the Handmaid’s Tale and The Power.

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This is an incredible and important book about female agency and objectification. While there are many dystopian/fantasy stories that tackle this topic, this one stands out to me for many reasons. The tired tropes of the genre fail to emerge. There is no romantic subplot. There is no hard takedown of a corrupt government/system. Consequences are real and felt. The world building is wonderful and believable and is close enough to reality to make the parallels clear. I loved the book extracts and letters etc that we get between chapters as a further insight into this world. The book really explores victim blaming and parts of this story are very difficult to read and unfortunately not too difficult to imagine in real life. People ask how many feminist patriarchal takedowns we need and I would argue, as many as it takes. The book says it best: "The terror and risk we experienced was nothing compared to what girls faced elsewhere... Our country had rape laws, anti discrimination policies in work places, birth control and the chance for most women to access the same education as men" Basically just because it is not as bad as it COULD be, does not mean we should have to settle for anything less than complete equality. This book is thought provoking and nuanced, the sort of book where you highlight every page and think about it for days and will probably be required reading in schools one day. Completely recommend.

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This was simultaneously wonderful and deeply frustrating - not because of the writing (which I really enjoyed), but because of the all too believable world this inhabited, with the limits and shame of women defining their existence.

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Like all the other girls she knows, Celeste was born with a pattern of birthmarks setting out her future, and with it, the future of her family. At some point, those birthmarks will become fixed and Celeste will enter a short transition to adulthood. But this transition is a dangerous time. Can Celeste forge her own path, or is she bound to follow the road set out by her birthmarks? A unique, dystopian story, with relatable characters, Body of Stars is a must read for fans of A Handmaid’s Tale, Vox and The Power.

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I love a dystopian novel, so I was really excited to read this. It is an interesting concept and I was instantly drawn to the characters. Celeste and Miles have always been close but as Celeste approaches adulthood a rift starts to develop between them along with events that will change their lives forever.

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I devoured this book, I lived it; it feels important. Such an accomplished and flawless read, it doesn’t feel like a debut at all. It is dystopian and in that comes discomfort but it’s real power is that it is our world turned only slightly on its axis. Celeste comes from a place where girls have the future mapped on their bodies by way of a series of moles and freckles on their skin, but they possess no sense of agency, no control over their predictions or their lives. Her brother Miles has the ability to read the markings and interpret them; an unusual gift amongst men and an interest that is viewed as subversive in this oppressive world. This is a story of their sibling relationship; it is complex, it is fragile, it is intense but critically it endures. In a world where the patriarchy goes unchallenged and worse, crimes against women are blamed on the women, Laura Maylene Walter tells a story of family; the bond between siblings, the secrets we keep and the lies that are told to protect ourselves and those who we love the most. Through the lens of a beautifully told coming of age story, she examines the idea of fate and predestination, scrutinises female agency, identity and the idea that biology is destiny. There are a multitude of trigger warnings; rape, abduction, victim shaming - at times this is an extremely distressing read but at the same time it is one of hope and recognition of what can be achieved with understanding, intelligence and courage. Body of Stars is unsettling but in the best of ways. I hope that this book receives the recognition that it deserves. Thanks to Netgalley & Hodder Studio for granting me this ARC for an honest review and thank you to Laura Maylene Walter for writing an amazing book.

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What a unique and multifaceted debut of a story. Set in a dystopian world where women’s futures are mapped out on their bodies, we follow Celeste and her brother who share the same birthday 2 years apart. He has been tracking her markings and learning how to interprete them all her life. Once she hits puberty, she becomes a “changeling” and her markings transform leading to a new future prediction and causing a rift between the siblings. This book covers a myriad of topics in a very clever and in-depth manner. It raises the question of fate when you know the future. Do you just roll over and accept it or do you fight to change it? It also questions how people deal with grief when you know something terrible is going t9 happen. If for instance, you know your father is going to die from a car accident, do you make sure he never gets in a car again or keep him at home forever? Do you start mourning him even before he’s gone and do you tell him or hide it? More importantly the book deals with a lot of issues women face today and how their voices and very beings can be marginalised. For instance when girls become Changelings, overnight they have this glow and luminescence that makes them super attractive and compelling to men. However they are told to be modest, cover up, not be seen talking to men alone, and not to go out at night. However when Changelings are abducted and abused, they are blamed for being “allowing” themselves to be taken and ostracised from society, with poor future job prospects. The men however are not punished or made to face any criminal justice. It draws a lot of parallels to how rape victims are treated now and the language that is used almost indicating men have no agency in their actions. This book is heavy but beautiful. It also covers issue some like big brother government and privacy. It will make you think, and it will make you emotional as it speaks so well to womanhood, grief and rebirth. Very beautifully done. 4.5/5 stars.

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tw: rape, abduction, anti lgbtq+ rhetoric & misogyny A feminist dystopia set in a society where every girl is born with specific markings that can predict their future, and nothing is more valuable to them than the freckles on their skin. The story follows Celeste, a young girl entering her changeling period, the most dangerous period of her life, when she is most vulnerable to being taken. This was difficult. Brutal. Uncomfortable. In a world where women are supposedly sacred, and yet still treated as commodities, it wasn't at all hard to connect the dots and see the obvious similarities to our own society. With everything going on, and everything that has ever gone on, stories like this are so important. This is very real. But it still left me with a surprising feeling of hope; a hope that our futures are not as bleak as they may seem. Not as fixed as the markings would suggest. A story about the future, its certainty, and its uncertainty. A book left as open to interpretation as the very markings these characters possess. And a very powerful metaphor indeed.

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My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Body of Stars’ by Laura Maylene Walter in exchange for an honest review. This was an extraordinary debut. As well as being well written, its themes of female agency and objectification are extremely relevant subjects. The dystopian society outlined within its pages reflects troubling aspects of modern society. In the world of the novel every female from birth holds a map of her future on her skin, as each mole and freckle presents a clue to unlocking what will come to pass. Around the time of their sixteenth birthday, girls enter a brief period of transition known as the changeling phase. During this time their final marks will appear and their future decided. However, the aura of the changelings are irresistible to men. As a result abduction is rife as certain men seek to possess these young women and their futures for themselves. Thus, they are advised to remain ever vigilant, dress modestly, and the rest. Those who return after being abducted are considered ruined and their future educational and career paths curtailed through no fault of their own. In addition, their marks are usually recorded during their abduction and become commodities shared among enthusiasts. Celeste Morton is the novel’s narrator. She shares a close bond with her older brother, Miles, who despite his gender is a gifted interpreter of the marks. When Celeste enters her own changeling phase, she not only learns a devastating secret but is also tempted to flout those pesky safety guidelines. No further details in order to avoid spoilers, but I will say that while ‘Body of Stars’ was difficult to read in places, it was not graphic. However, the level of control exerted upon women, not only by those who sought to abduct the changelings, but in general by this society was disturbing. Interspersed between chapters were extracts from ‘Mapping the Future: An Interpretive Guide to Women and Girls’. These entries were chillingly clinical. I did wonder a bit about the predestination aspect of the markings, though at one point Julia, Miles’ mentor, says to Celeste: “The future will come for you as it intends,” she said. “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. We do have free will, after all.” Overall, I felt that Laura Maylene Walter has written a thought-provoking work of literary dystopian fiction that was also infused with hope for change as well as celebrated the bonds of family, especially between siblings. She’s one to watch. I was certainly caught up in the author’s vision and ended up reading ‘Body of Stars’ in a single sitting.

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