The Map of Stars: York, Book 3

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Map of Stars: York, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Wild, imaginative finale of alt-New York fantasy series.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

When they're not trying to solve the Morningstarr Cipher -- a task that involves learning a lot about historic buildings and landmarks of the fictional New York that also exist in our version, the main characters also solve codes and puzzles. These two brainy kids use sophisticated words like "ennui" "existential," "nefarious," and "preposterous." They spend a lot of time doing research on their phones and elsewhere. Brief mention of many books, including The Lost  Girl (a movie in this version) and Orphan Island. Time travel is a plot element, as is the possible existence of parallel worlds. Plot developments hinge on in-depth knowledge of historic chess games, automata, time capsules, Aaron Burr's wife, and more.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of family, friendship, kindness, tenacity, teamwork, following your own moral compass but being mindful of your loved ones.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Grappling with many things they have no idea how to deal with, from the loss of their home and the general deterioration of their community to the discovery that they seem to have a strong connection with the legendary, long-departed Morningstarr twins whose inventions are the foundation of their present day world, the high-strung, brainy Biedermann twins, Theo and Tess, race against time to solve the Cipher and possibly save their world. Their friend Jaime, a talented artist, is shaken by the events of Book 2 and not sure who or what to trust, but chooses friendship and their team on a quest for -- they're not sure what. This often involves sneaking into restricted areas and other stuff they're not supposed to be doing. All the kids are devoted to their families, and their parents and grandparents offer strength, support, and the occasional timely rescue. Ava Oneal, mysterious Black superhero woman from Book 2, is important to the story, as is a Native American lawyer who befriends the kids. Likewise a society of eccentric puzzle solvers seen in earlier books.


A beloved minor character dies. Jaime is thrown off a boat into the harbor by a mysterious woman. The death of Jaime's mom in the past continues to have a strong impact on his life. The kids and their friends are constantly dodging cartoonish but definitely murderous villains with threats like, "A man like that could make a phone call, one phone call, and everyone you love could just ... disappear forever." A character escaped enslavement and uses a knife for protection, having once stabbed a man attacking a girl. In the past, a villainous character's divorce involves attempted murder (no details). She also bullies and abuses her employees. A character's pet, kidnapped in Book 2, escapes a mad scientist's lab full of weirdly altered animals after awful experiences. A villain is killed by one of his animal victims.


In a past century, an enslaved Black girl runs away rather than be made to marry an enslaved guy and have enslaved children.


Occasional references to butts.


Legos are occasionally mentioned; Theo  uses them to construct model buildings, and some villains look like the people in Lego sets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of references to rum and other alcohol, mostly in history as ships carry it as cargo and crew members sometimes get drunk. Drunks in the street are a danger to unwary travelers in some eras.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Map of Stars is the final installment of Laura Ruby's York trilogy, set in a present-day, alternative version of New York, which overlaps with our own in many ways but whose founding technology is based on the amazing 19th-century mechanical inventions of the mysterious, long-vanished Morningstarr twins. The twins may or may not have left a secret code meant to save the city in time of peril -- and for the previous two volumes, the teen and tween main characters have been trying to solve it. It's been a perilous adventure, as a villain bent on destroying the Morningstarr technology and "modernizing" New York will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. Wildly imaginative plot twists, codes, puzzles, history lessons, and a whole collection of previously unseen but ruthlessly murderous new villains enter the picture. There are plenty of genuine heroics, as well as strong messages of friendship, family, taking care of your community, and using your brain, as well as respect for those who've gone before you. The cast is notably diverse -- the teen/tween protagonists are dark-skinned and big-haired, as are most of their neighbors; a superhero character is Black (and in her early life, centuries earlier, fled slavery); a Native American lawyer befriends the kids.

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What's the story?

THE MAP OF STARS finds Tess and Theo Biedermann, now 13, reeling from the events of Book 2, especially the discovery that somehow, mysteriously, they are profoundly connected to the long-lost Morningstarr twins. Also shocked, their best friend Jaime, who really doesn't know what to believe or who to trust. Back in the 19th century, the Morningstarrs invented the mechanical marvels and architectural wonders that define this version of New York, then vanished as mysteriously as they'd arrived -- but not before embedding clues to a cipher that would save the city in time of peril. Or so the legend has it. The kids are racing against time with ever-greater urgency as a villain is bent on "modernizing" New York by destroying the Morningstarr-built infrastructure. And he's not about to let a bunch of kids stop him.

Is it any good?

Laura Ruby winds up her alt-New York trilogy in an exciting, twisty adventure. There's a raft of plot complications, cartoonish villains, strange riddles, and three brainy young heroes who just want to save their homes and families. The Map of Stars often has its readers as well as its characters wondering "Wait, what just happened?" as Theo, Tess, and Jaime race against time to solve a centuries-old puzzle by the architects of their fictional New York's mechanical marvels. Indeed, before it all winds up, mad scientists, experimental hybrid monsters, time travel, and parallel universes have entered the picture. Not everyone will be satisfied with the resolutions of all the plot threads, but they'll have a hard time putting this final tale down until they're through.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories set in alternative, fictional, and definitely different versions of places that exist in our world, like like The Map of Stars. Do you like being able to imagine how things might be different if something in the past had taken a different turn? Does it make you see our world differently?

  • Do you think time travel is something we'll be able to do someday? If you could travel in time, where and when -- would you go?

  • What other stories do you know where the main characters are twins? How does being twins affect their lives compared with those of their non-twin friends?

Book details

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For kids who love fantasy and technology

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