There was only one map that showed the whole of our island, and it hung in Da’s study. I called it Ma’s map, because it had been passed down through her family for generations, maybe even since Arinta’s time, a thousand years ago. It had always felt like a sign that Ma and Da were meant for each other, that he was a cartographer and her only heirloom was a map.
Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow, Da would often say. See here, how my blood runs not blue at my wrist, but black? Your mother always said it was ink. I am a cartographer through to my heart.
Isabella lives on the island of Joya with her father, a cartographer. He used to sail around the world, making maps. But then a new Governor of the island arrived, who forbade anyone from ever leaving, or even stepping foot in the sea. He also divided the island in half with an impassable forest, so that Isabella has never even seen the other villages. But one day, Isabella’s classmate is murdered, and her best friend Lupe, who happens to be the Governor’s daughter, goes missing. Isabella must trust her maps and her courage if she is to find her.
The Girl of Ink and Stars is set in a world that is almost, but not quite, our own, and Joya is an island in that almost-Atlantic; I was picturing somewhere like Madeira as I read it. The writing has the quality of a fable to it, and so as the mythic elements start to appear they do not seem out of place. The plot is based around an unfinished myth told at the beginning of the story, and it’s satisfying but with some very real stakes.
I loved the character of Lupe, and her friendship with Isabella. Lupe is in an impossible situation, caught between two worlds — her father treats the native islanders cruelly, but she has to go to school with their children. This conflict tests their friendship, but watching them grow in the face of that was my favourite part of the book. There’s a scene where Lupe introduces Isabella to another girl, Doce, who is the daughter of the leader of the Banished (the people who live beyond the forest), with the line “She’s a governor’s daughter too”, and in that one sentence we see Lupe’s loneliness and how Isabella can never truly understand her. It’s a shame, then, that we don’t see much of Doce after this, since I would have liked to see that friendship develop too.
Also, this book is absolutely gorgeous. Here are a couple of photos of my copy: the endpapers have these beautiful hand-drawn maps, and every page is illustrated with cartography symbols and line drawings which relate to the plot. It’s not just a lovely story, it’s a lovely object as well.
The Girl of Ink and Stars would be suitable for middle-grade readers, and is available from Amazon. It is published as The Cartographer’s Daughter in the US.