Title: On a Sunbeam
Author: Tillie Walden
Illustrator: Tillie Walden
Page Count: 544
Publisher: First Second
Original Publication Date: 2018
Genre(s): Graphic novel, Science fiction, Young adult
While at boarding school, Mia falls for new-girl Grace. They form a strong bond immediately, dancing their way from friendship to something more. But Grace is hiding something, and soon her secret tears her away from Mia. Years later, Mia joins a reconstruction crew that travels throughout deep space to re-build broken down structures. While getting to know her crew, she realizes she may have a shot at finding Grace and re-building what they once had.
Graphic novels are the best and easiest way to crawl out of a reading slump. Just sayin’.
On a Sunbeam sounded super promising when I discovered it—sci-fi graphic novel featuring LGBT+ teens flying around in deep space searching to rekindle lost love????? Yes, please. I’ve been in a reading slump all month, so blowing through this in 2 days helped me get out of it a little. The story is told in alternating timelines—present-day Mia working with the reconstruction crew, and past-Mia when she meets Grace at boarding school. Both timelines are equally interesting and fun to read. Each timeline utilizes different color schemes to separate them further than just the obvious age difference and storyline.
Though the plot is interesting and unique, its the characters and themes that really make this story shine. First of all, there are no men in this book. At all. Men aren’t even mentioned. There’s no explanation for this, they are just not there. All the characters are women with the exception of Elliot, who is non-binary, going by they/them pronouns, which opens up the conversation about the importance of using someone’s preferred pronouns. Elliot also doesn’t speak, so their friends come to the rescue when a certain character in a leadership position continuously refers to Elliot as “she.” Another important concept talked about in the book: consent. Mia and Grace are fooling around but take pause as they are both adamant about discussing consent. I love this. I love that this book covers important topics like this. And I love that, even though there are no men, the author was sure to include someone who identifies as non-binary. In addition to the gender aspect, the characters are also diverse in skin color and personality. There are mixed-race couples, bullies-turned-friends, and friendships despite differences. This book is super inclusive and well worth a read.
Interesting story, beautiful color illustrations, and contemporary themes and topics make this story one-of-a-kind. Though I thought the story was a little rushed, I had no big qualms about the book as a whole. I really enjoyed this novel and hope you will, too. What started as a web comic—a story in the midst of thousands of other stories—has becoming a graphic novel that needs a place on your shelf.