Book Review: “On a Sunbeam” by Tillie Walden

Blurb

(via goodreads)

Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As new member Mia gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. Soon, though, Mia reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

An inventive world, a breathtaking love story, and stunning art come together in this new work by award-winning artist Tillie Walden.

Review

I don’t read many graphic novels — seriously, I can count all the graphic novels I’ve ever read on the fingers of one hand. There was Digger by Ursula Vernon, followed by the Check Please series by Ngozi Ukazu, and now there’s On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.

I’ve loved every graphic novel I’ve ever read, and On a Sunbeam is no exception.

There is some serious whimsy in this story. Space does not appear to be an airless vacuum; chunks of land (sometimes with houses, people, and trees) float in the darkness like islands in a vast, star-speckled sea. Spaceships resemble giant fish. This makes no sense from a scientific perspective, but who cares? It’s beautiful.

What really gets me, though, is how On a Sunbeam is just packed to the brim with heart. Characters undergo hardships and heartbreak, but love and friendship endure no matter what. This is found family at its finest. Mia is immediately welcomed aboard her new home and finds a place for herself among the crew, and that place prevails in spite of a mishap with severe consequences.

There is a lot of wlw representation in this book, as well as nonbinary representation. All of the characters are unique and interesting, and I love how Elliot’s and Grace’s pasts in The Staircase (not an actual staircase) are revealed over the course of the story. The only character who even remotely approaches the category of “villain” is dealt with via a simple conversation. This isn’t to say that On a Sunbeam is all rainbows and butterflies, however; there’s darkness and even violence here, and doubt as to whether the crew will survive Mia’s quest to find her teenage love.

The characters (though lovely) are largely static; none undergo significant character growth. This left me feeling slightly frustrated with the book, but the story was just so heartwarming that I couldn’t help smiling at the end. I stayed up until 2am to reach the last page, and I’m glad I did. If you’re looking for adventure and found family, On a Sunbeam is definitely for you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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