The words are purposes./The words are maps./I came to see the damage that was done/and the treasures that prevail.   Adrienne Rich

National Geographic defines a map as a “symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.” Maps help us see the world in a simple, visual way. Maps, National Geographic assures us, can teach us about the world and the placement of countries and features, as well as the distances between them.

Mapmakers are cartographers, and the maps they create have a purpose. With maps, the creator helps us find our way to a new destination, chart the weather, and plan how and where to build and rebuild the world we live in. Before the cartographer begins, they should know what they want to display and the information important to understand the area. Audience needs are key to planning. Purpose is fundamental.

In A Map to the Stars, cartographer Ashley Hutchison succeeds in creating a map with purpose, one that builds and rebuilds the world she lived in. The creative nonfiction memoir of her childhood tells Ashley’s story through the lens of Avery, a young girl who finds herself lost and often directionless in the wake of her mother’s chaotic life. A Map to the Stars, like other maps, has symbols, scale, and grids that guide the reader in understanding the places where Ashley/Avery was, navigate the lands she called home, and give directions to higher ground.

National Geographic asserts that “all maps are scale models of reality.” The scale of a map is simply the relationship of distances on the map and actual distances on the Earth. In A Map to the Stars, Avery’s separation from her mother, her sister, and her father are somewhat measurable. She can count the miles, but not the distance between them. Even when she is near her family, she often feels far away. The scale of A Map to the Stars is one established by relationships. Hutchison’s creative nonfiction memoir explores the connections between a child and the home she craves: an inch can represent a mile, a word can represent a chasm. Scale is determined by the size of the territory to be represented in the map. A small, gray house on a hill overlooking a church, with willow trees and a swing may seem small in comparison to the scope of the universe. For Avery, the loss of this place is bigger than the space between the stars she watches from the tree’s branch.

Maps use symbols to represent geographic features. Cartographers may use dots, colors, lines, and circles to help one find their way. These features are the building blocks cartographers rely upon to create reality in miniature. Each part of A Map to the Stars is constructed with symbols of Avery’s need to find a center, a space. A line between roses and Avery is the separation of a child and her innocence. The dots of bruises on her face and body? Symbols of the hurt no one could see. Ice blue and golden? A reality shared in secret, readers. The subtle hues in Avery’s map represent a bigger space, a geographic location scarred and marked by misuse. 

Grids are a series of intersecting lines that help users locate places on the map. With grids, cartographers create coordinates. With coordinates, we can send out a message to be saved. You’ll find me at the intersection of heartbreak and healing. I’m here, at 37 sunshine and 45 sorrow. I like to think that A Map to the Stars is more than anything, a set of coordinates. I think that Ashley, in sharing an intimate and primal grid of intersecting lines of betrayal and absolution, has sent her final SOS. Grids help us find our way back. In creating her map, Ashley/Avery found her orientation, discovered her true north, and found her way back home.

Looking for directions? Be sure to check out Lost Boys Press bookstore. Find your own way home with A Map to the Stars

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