Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: March 18th, 2021
Rating: 4/5 Stars
[Please note, due to the topics in this book and recent events, this review contains discussions of rape culture, sexual assault, and the abduction of women]
At times, Body of Stars isn’t an easy read, with many of the moments Celeste experiences feeling very close to what women regularly endure in our own, real world. There’s a lot here surrounding rape culture, with it being pretty much accepted that young women – girls – may get kidnapped and abused once they hit puberty, but it’s not the men’s fault, because everything in a woman’s life is fated.
When the book opens, we meet Celeste, a young girl excited and eager to become a woman. Like other girls in her world, she is born with markings across her body, which predict the course her life will take. The one thing that is never foretold is whether a young woman will be abducted during her changeling period. This period is essentially this world’s version of puberty, when girls cross the line into womanhood. For this time, they are irresistible to those around them, taking on an otherworldly beauty. But with this period comes dangers, dangers which many people are not interested in changing.
Yes, in many ways this feels like a modern, more Fantasy- and YA-focused version of The Handmaid’s Tale. But that’s not to lessen this book at all. It feels like a book that should be read now, because really, not a lot has actually changed since Margaret Atwood’s novel. Some may think the experiences these girls face are extreme, but there’s a subtlety to it, an underlying tension throughout, and the major difference between this world and Body of Stars is that the girls are most at risk when they are going through puberty, after which point they are safer, they are able to continue with their lives to some degree.
Of course, in the real word, as women we face threats and danger our whole lives.
I wasn’t going to go into certain aspects of this book so much, but I started writing this review last weekend, and it has sat here, this week, waiting to be continued, because for the last few nights I have barely done anything except play the Switch after work, needing to zone out. But as it turns out, this book has actually become more relevant now.
Women in this world are seen as ‘valuable’ and special and something to be protected. They have limited freedoms, especially when younger, and in a lot of ways other societies are held up to them as if to say “look how much worse you could have it.” Celeste’s brother, Marcus, wants to be an interpreter, someone who reads the markings on a woman’s body and reveals their future. But this is a profession only women can enter, and those in charge make every effort to protect this ‘sacred duty’.
Some of the ideas and such came through a little clunky. Of course, a book cannot deal with every topic under the sun, but the idea of LGBTQIA issues is sort of brushed under the rug. It is mentioned that those in charge enforce the idea that gender is as fixed as the marks on women’s skin, but in other countries this is handled differently. There is some discussion around other countries dealings with women and the trans community and such, but it does then beg the question of the relationship these more ‘progressive’ countries have with those who treat their citizens poorly. It feels like sometimes issues are raised to simply cover a hole, but done so in a slightly poorly handled way.
But, this book is a reflection of the world women live in every day. The kind of world where men see the horrible things we go through, and shift the blame for the violence committed by men. Abducted girls are told they were responsible for their own safety, they knew men couldn’t control themselves when they are changelings, why did they risk it? These girls have to change schools, and for those who can afford it, there is a sort of ‘private’ school they can attend with other girls who have been through similar.
But even taking away those elements, this is also a strong coming-of-age tale, as Celeste comes to terms with the changes in her life, as her relationships with her brothers and friends shift, and she becomes more aware of her own body and self.
As we yet again have the conversations around women’s safety, rape culture, harassment and assault, this book is actually arriving at a very fitting moment. Yes, women can be strong, but we shouldn’t have to be. But at least in Body of Stars, even if things aren’t fixed by the end, they are moving in the right direction. I just hope the real world follows.