December’s Big Picture
by Alice Broadway
The markings tell all—origin stories, lineage, profession, successes and the most painful of failures. Indeed, to the people of Saintstone, without the sacred practices of marking and preserving skin stories, how else would you determine who people actually were and if they lived a righteous life? To be unmarked in this society is to be considered blank, associated with the evil White Witch.
Leora Flint, recent graduate and apprentice inker, is grieving the death of her father, but as she prepares to memorialize him with the traditional Skin Book that preserves a person’s tattooed life story, she finds to her horror that among his marks of virtue was the black crow of the forgotten. That mark indicates his com- mission of a terrible crime—helping the blanks—and means that at the weighing of the soul ceremony he will be judged as forgotten and cast away.
Broadway drops readers immediately into the drama, politics, and general whirlwind of a new and enticing world, complete with its own convoluted government that waits for any signs of insubordination or wrongdoing in a fashion akin to 1984’s Big Brother. Leora is determined to triumph against it, however, as she, together with her quick-witted best friend Verity, who’s a government insider, and Oscar, the son of the man who stole her father’s crow-marked skin to evade its detection, set out to save her father’s soul. Adding fuel and an unsettling plot twist to the fire, Obel, master teacher at the tattoo shop where Leora works, not-so-subtly informs her that she’s actually her father’s daughter from a previous marriage, was born a blank, and is a direct descendent of the White Witch.
That’s a jaw-dropping development in the book, but Leora—and readers—will have still greater concerns. Higher up on the list? Betrayal and deceit from a most surprising quarter. Don’t get comfortable, as Broadway’s ability to build foreshadowed yet deceptive plot shifts will have readers gripping the edge of their seats (with the hand that isn’t holding the book, of course). Leora’s voice rings true as she narrates her conflict about everything—markings, emotions, family, friendship, career path—and her obvious internal struggle with self-identity. She is complex in a way that offers infinite entry points for connection and resonance with a variety of readers. The story’s looming questions of identity and social justice illuminate the issues of individuality and the fight for justice against a corrupt government, and in our inked-up era, the notion that the tattoos on your skin narrate your life is intriguing and appealing, giving food for thought about how our own bodies do and don’t tell our stories.
This exciting dystopian text offers readers an adventure and journey towards truth as Leora works to find herself when she must question everything she knows. Included within the plot are stories and tales that undergird the beliefs of the marked peoples, drawing readers deeper into Broadway’s imagined world.
Melanie Kirkwood, Reviewer