Title: On a Sunbeam
Author/artist: Tillie Walden
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: First Second Books
Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, 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. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.
On a Sunbeam is an epic and expansive tale of discovery and regret, of exploration and impossibility, of love. Of hope and everything the future can, does, and will hold.
Mia is the newest member of a crew that travels through space repairing old structures, slowly and methodically rebuilding parts of the past. She's quiet, more than a little lost as she gets used to the work and the different personalities of the crew. Hard as nails Alma and intelligent Char. Bold and bright Jules. Mysterious and thoughtful Elliot. But it always comes back around to Mia. She has the look of someone looking for something. Through the flashback chapters, we see who she's looking for. When Mia was in school, she met a girl named Grace. Made friends with and argued with Grace. Fell in love with Grace. But then Grace left and Mia was left wondering. Where she went, if she'd ever see Grace again. The flashback chapters reveal who Mia was and is, while the chapters set in the present reveal the secrets and wonders of the universe, and what Mia must go through in order to, hopefully, find Grace again.
The art style is wonderful and expressive, full of detail. The different expressions, Mia's frowns and Jules' smiles, Elliot's surprise and seriousness. The buildings on the repair jobs, half-crumbled and lost to time, ready to be repaired. The school, all structure and learning and adolescence. The spaceship, a curious space of family and laughter and acceptance inside something that looks like a fish. The Staircase. And the colours, the accents that change depending on when and where the story goes. The black and white that joins with the purple of the ship, the blue of the past, the pink and yellow and orange that follow events in motion. All of it is gorgeous.
There's a wonderful, powerful moment a little more than halfway through the book that I think is so relevant right now. It has to do with respecting people who aren't like you and only acknowledging certain parts of someone (referring to the moment in which Elliot who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns is misgendered). If you want someone to respect you, respect all of you, then you have to give them just as much respect. You don't get to pick and choose which parts, you don't get to decide what's important for someone else. Especially when it comes to how that person defines themselves, their name, their pronouns or their gender. Instead, you stop and listen. You give that person as much respect as you expect to be given, because if you give them none, you'll get none in return.
I find it hard to describe this book because, when you peel back the layers, there's so much here. There's adventure, there's determination, there's regret, there's making mistakes and righting wrongs. There's consequences that carry, that affect so much more that we ever through possible. There's love and hope, there's persistence. There's finding a family, finding a group of people who accept you, flaws and all, while you accept theirs because of the support and care they give you and you give them. There's impossibility and wonder, there's exploration. There's so much here, in each character, on each page and in each panel, in each location. And I'm sure there's more I've missed. This is an epic tale that deserves to be read.
(I received an e-galley of this title to review from First Second through NetGalley and later purchased a finished copy.)