In this novel for young people, author Rosalyn Eves, who identifies as Mormon, paints an intimate portrait of the Mormon religion, family culture, and history as she relates the fictional story of 17-year-old Elizabeth Bertelsen, partially inspired by the life of the author’s great-great-grandmother.
In 1878 Utah, Elizabeth is duty bound, as are all young Mormon women in her community, to help care for her younger siblings until she marries and has a family of her own. Though Elizabeth loves her parents and siblings, she chafes under her domestic responsibilities as dreams of becoming an astronomer fuel her imagination. This conflict—familial duty versus following her passion—tears at Elizabeth’s heart, filling her with guilt, confusion, and religious questions. She wonders why God would stir her heart with a yearning for bigger things like studying the stars and not allow her to pursue her ambitions. The struggling teen wants to study and explore ideas—“something to launch me heavenward instead of binding me on earth.”
Through a surprising series of events, Elizabeth travels to Colorado on the eve of the 1878 total solar eclipse. As she meets people of different races and from different walks of life, including female astronomers she so badly wants to emulate, Elizabeth’s struggles intensify. Will she have to hide or deny her Mormon faith to become an astronomer? Will she have to live as a single person, eschewing family bonds, in order to follow her dream?
Christianity and Mormonism hold vastly differing beliefs, yet Christian young people who read Beyond the Mapped Stars might be readily able to identify with Elizabeth’s struggles as she finds her way in the world. Christian parents who share the reading experience of this novel with younger teens have an opportunity to compare Christian and Mormon beliefs and to assure their children that God, as revealed in the Bible, holds the whole world in his hands. Though recommended for young people ages 12-17, the book is better suited to ages 14 and older.
(Knopf Books for Young Readers)