by Tillie Walden. First Second, October 2018. 544 p. ill. ISBN 9781250178138 (hardcover), $21.99.
Reviewed June 2019
Stephanie Noell, Research and Instruction Librarian, Savannah College of Art and Design, firstname.lastname@example.org
On a Sunbeam is Tillie Walden’s first foray into science fiction. The storyline primarily focuses on the past and present of Mia. In the present, Mia is the latest addition to an interplanetary restoration team who travel through space in a goldfish-shaped ship. The team consists of shy captain Charlotte, authoritative first mate Alma (who is married to Charlotte), nonverbal mechanic Elliott (who is nonbinary and goes by they/them pronouns), and loquacious crew member Jules (Alma’s niece). In the past Mia was a teenage loner and troublemaker who falls for the new girl, Grace, at her boarding school.
The story bounces back and forth between the two time periods in Mia’s life and this narrative style allows the past to provide a context for the present. Walden has put together a captivating cast of characters across gender, sexual, ethnic, and racial identities.
Much like her graphic memoir, Spinning (one of ARLIS/NA’s Notable Graphic Novels of 2017), the art in On a Sunbeam consists of clean lines, muted colors, and minimal detail. Walden creates a limited color palette unique to each location so that they are instantly recognizable on the page. Her character expressions allow for nonverbal reactions like those of Elliott to be easily read. This book would be ideal for public, academic, or school libraries whose patrons enjoy teen or new adult fiction, fantasy, science fiction, or stories featuring LGBT characters.