Set in outer space, Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam is the story of Mia. When we first meet Mia, she has just joined a crew of “reconstructionists”  who travel from planet to planet to fix damaged locations. It isn’t completely explained what has happened in these places, but many of them are dangerous and unstable.

Woven into Mia’s present-day life with this crew are flashbacks showing her freshman year at boarding school five years prior. At school, Mia fell in love with Grace. But Grace was hiding a huge secret about herself and her family, which ultimately leads to Grace leaving before Mia can say goodbye. They’ve never seen each other again and Mia just wants one more chance to say goodbye and make sure Grace is okay.

As Mia becomes closer with the crew, she reveals this desire. Her new friends are supportive and decide to help Mia find her long lost love which leads to a dangerous adventure for all of them.

Tillie Walden is good at telling emotional, personal stories. Her characters are likable and relatable, just like in her memoir Spinning. While both are wildly different genres, Walden is able to capture the same universal feelings of first love, friendship, and finding your place.

To put it simply, On a Sunbeam is a sci-fi lesbian romance. Walden’s world is populated mostly by females (one of Mia’s friends/crewmates is nonbinary) and there is not one male character in the story, which I didn’t really notice until halfway through. These are strong, diverse, awesome women who can do manual labor and at the same time provide emotional support to their friends. It is not often that you see that kind of dynamite female character—and it is even more uncommon to have it be every female character in the story.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t sure if I liked this book at first. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of sci-fi, I wondered if that kind of setting really added anything to the story. However, the more I think about it, the more I really enjoyed it. The setting adds a unique aspect to the story and in the end, it is still full of realism despite the unrealistic, futuristic world.

At 544 pages, On a Sunbeam is a bit longer than your average graphic novel, but it delves into a lot of themes that I think most readers could relate to and love. The characters are in their late teens/early twenties, and I recommend this for teens and adults.

On a Sunbeam
by Tillie Walden
ISBN: 9781250178138
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 12-18

  • Lisa

    Past Reviewer

    Lisa Clark has worked at the Kenton County Public Library (KY) since 2005. She’s done a little bit of everything including shelving, working at the reference desk, scheduling, graphic design, editing, grant writing, and more. Currently she works in the children’s department and maintains the collection by weeding and ordering materials. She also leads the adult writers group at the library and writes read alike recommendations for Novelist. With a BA in English Literature from Northern Kentucky University, Lisa has always had a passion for reading. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she likes to run, watch TV shows and movies with her husband, and listen to podcasts.

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