In a United States not so unlike our own, the Department of Balance has adopted a radical new form of law enforcement: rather than incarceration, wrongdoers are given a second (and sometimes, third, fourth, and fifth) shadow as a reminder of their crime--and a warning to those they encounter. Within the Department, corruption and prejudice run rampant, giving rise to an underclass of so-called Shadesters who are disenfranchised, publicly shamed, and deprived of civil rights protections. Kris is a Shadester and a new mother to a baby born with a second shadow of her own. Grieving the loss of her wife and thoroughly unprepared for the reality of raising a child alone, Kris teeters on the edge of collapse, fumbling in a daze of alcohol, shame, and self-loathing. Yet as the kid grows, Kris finds her footing, raising a child whose irrepressible spark cannot be dampened by the harsh realities of the world. She can't forget her wife, but with time, she can make a new life for herself and the kid, supported by a community of fellow misfits who defy the Department to lift one another up in solidarity and hope.
The novel is episodic, and Crane plays with form by threading in pop quizzes and Kris’s somber facts about animals in captivity ... Crane’s book gives us a disarming model for life under surveillance. Kris’s voice is everything in this novel — she’s a morose, prickly, paranoid yet lovable narrator with exquisite comic timing ... Readers who like every mechanism and metaphor of control mapped out may be underwhelmed by the novel’s world-building, which is quiet. But the subversive intelligence of the book is its representation of the stolen pleasures and general unease of a hemmed-in life. The mood created by Kris’s interiority...makes questions raised by the sparsely rendered workings of the state largely irrelevant to the novel’s enjoyment ... A meditation on those precious acts through which Kris finds her way: the joy of queer parenting and chosen family, the beauty of forgiveness and the resistance inherent in expansive love.
I was highlighting sentences in this book before I was ten pages deep. Crane is also a poet, and you can feel the way their language has been pared down, sharp cuts made with precision and wisdom. The way Kris communicates her story is painfully, beautifully intimate, crushingly honest about her pain ... There are books you read—books that weigh in your mind, that linger and last—and then there are books that somehow seem to seep into your skin. Reading can sometimes be an unexpectedly physical experience, and reading I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself was one of those times for me: I would pick up the book, intending to read a few pages (without chapters, there is little reason ever to pause). And as I read, I would feel like my heart was inflating, a tiny swell with each golden sentence or breathtakingly crisp observation, until I had to set the book back down lest everything in me just burst.
Marisa Crane’s debut novel is a remarkable feat of speculative fiction, its premise so strangely familiar that to call it speculative feels like a misnomer ... An assured and surprising ode to queer family. It’s an untame story about motherhood and survival and the quiet, daily work of building a livable world. It’s about what humans can bear and what we can get used to, about the choices we make and that are made for us, about the worst things we do to each other and the most astonishing.