Book Review: Rosalyn Eves’ Beyond the Mapped Stars

Beyond the Mapped Stars (Knopf, 2021)

I was startled to realize recently that I had never read a mainstream novel by and about an LDS woman, despite holding a PhD in English. Although many contemporary LDS writers have achieved national recognition in science fiction and young adult literature, it remains rare for a national press to publish a book by an LDS author in which their religion features prominently–a fact that many have attributed to the lack of national interest in Mormonism, the suspicion with which members often receive unofficial books that deal with the Church, and the lack of robust institutional structures for supporting LDS literature. Those that are published (many of which are excellent) often derive their marketability by playing into sensationalized tropes about Mormonism held by outsiders, particularly those that depict LDS women as in need of rescue from their culture. Rosalyn Eves’ Beyond the Mapped Stars (Knopf, 2021) is a significant achievement, because Eves has written a young adult historical novel published by a national press that both satisfies the hunger of LDS young women to recognize themselves in literature while focusing on themes and events that have universal appeal.

Beyond the Mapped Stars tells the story of Elizabeth Bertelsen, an aspiring astronomer from a rural, polygamous LDS family who wonders whether her aspiration is compatible with the competing desires she feels towards her religion, family and romance. Her journey from home to assist a pregnant sister takes unexpected turns that allow her to meet fellow female astronomers and witness an eclipse. Along the way, she confronts her complicity with racism and struggles with how to present herself when people she encounters are skeptical of the religion she values. While Elizabeth faces setbacks, she remains open to seizing unexpected opportunities.

First and foremost, the novel is fun. It takes us on adventures in which incidents like a train robbery and appearances by famous characters like Thomas Edison and notable LDS ones like Jane Manning James routinely occur. The novel imports into its historical context our moment’s greater awareness of and aspirations to overcome sexism and racism, but this element of fantasy is often one of the novel’s strengths. Its historical context makes the novel anthropologically interesting (and safely insulated from direct discussion of contemporary religious and political debates–this is not a book that will spark a controversy at your Thanksgiving table), while it appeals to a broader range of readers by eschewing religious discussions that might be too particular to Mormonism in favor of more general themes about balancing dreams with social expectations and confronting discrimination. As such, Eves accomplishes what few LDS novels have done: treating everyday LDS experience with seriousness and respect while insisting that it has something to offer outsiders, too.

Beyond the Mapped Stars fills a void by providing LDS young women with a novel that takes their religion and their concerns seriously. It also serves as a potential model for how LDS writers might include their religion in national fiction. It’s a book we should buy because it’s worth reading. And it’s a book we should buy, share and review in order to prove to national publishers that LDS literature has an eager audience.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this review, Natalie! What ages does this seem aimed at? (The Kirkus review says 12-18, which strikes me as really broad.)

  2. @Sam That’s a pretty typical age range for nationally published YA. Upper YA (with more mature themes) usually says 14+. I’d say it’s geared ideally at 14-18, but there’s no content that would make it inappropriate for younger teen readers. My 13 yo daughter has been reading it.

  3. Thanks Rosalyn! I’ll have to forward this on to my daughters.

  4. Natalie Brown says:

    @Sam: Rosalyn is the expert, of course, but I think anyone age 12 and up would enjoy it. It would also be a good choice for families to read together, because it’s appropriate and accessible for younger audience while still being entertaining for adults.

  5. Michael Austin says:

    I enjoyed this book a lot. And I am an old man.

  6. Andi Pitcher says:

    Ordering TODAY! Brilliantly crafted.

  7. Sam, your daughters should 1000% read this. So should you and J.

  8. Thank you for this notice and review. I’ll certainly be talking about this book on my radio program in Southern Utah. We’ll see when I can get it on the schedule. Probably later this month or early next month. This is terrific news!

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