Review of On a Sunbeam

On a Sunbeam
by Tillie Walden; illus. by the author
High School    First Second/Roaring Brook    537 pp.
10/18    978-1-250-17814-5    $32.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-17813-8    $21.99

This serial webcomic turned epic graphic novel tells Mia and Grace’s story in two alternating, far-future timelines, each initially distinguished by a different limited palette. In the first timeline, depicted in mostly purple tones, eighteen-year-old Mia tries to find her place among the tight-knit crewmates of a tiny spacecraft as they work to restore an abandoned space structure. In the second, set five years earlier at an intergalactic boarding school and shown in blues, Mia befriends mysterious new arrival Grace; the two girls fall deeply in love and are ultimately, traumatically separated by forces beyond their control. As connections between the narratives emerge, the palettes blend and expand into a full spectrum of sunset hues to portray the young women’s emotionally and logistically high-stakes reunion on Grace’s dangerous home planet. Walden immerses readers in a uniquely imagined and compelling sci-fi universe with a cast that’s refreshingly and matter-of-factly female-centric, orientation-inclusive, and racially diverse. (A subplot about nonbinary crew member Elliot is also welcome.) But the inventive cosmology is almost incidental to the plot and development of the interpersonal relationships, which, as in Walden’s graphic memoir Spinning (rev. 11/17), are rooted in the idea of not just finding but actively and consciously creating yourself, love, and your family. At over five hundred pages, this is a hefty but page-turning and profoundly moving read.

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, formerly editor of The Horn Book Guide, is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons University. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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