Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Title: On a Sunbeam
Author: Tillie Walden
Rating: ★★
Summary: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken structures, painstakingly putting the past together. Two girls meet in boarding school and fall deeply in love, only to learn the pain of loss. With two interwoven timelines and stunning art, On a Sunbeam showcases an inventive world, breathtaking romance, and an epic quest for love.


On a Sunbeam was a fantastic coming-of-age lesbian romance sandwiched between stunning artwork, but I got so lost trying to figure out how things were happening that I couldn’t fully appreciate the story. The main character, Mia, has a soft and sweet relationship with Grace, a new student at her boarding school, but then, five years later, she’s part of an all-female crew planet-hopping through space to restore crumbling architecture. Cool! But like… where does this book take place? A teacher mentions interplanetary colonization (“there was a large movement of young people to the rural fields area around Jupiter in the early ’50s”) but is it our Jupiter? Which “50s”? Is this the future or an alternate timeline? Does Earth exist? Are they living on it right now?

One of the best parts of the book is how natural and easy the f/f pairings are. Practically everyone we meet is female, and any disparaging comments made about Mia and Grace’s relationship happen because of regular ‘ole teenage bullying instead of their gender. Feminine pronouns are explicitly used save for one character, Elliot, who is non-binary using they/them pronouns. So the gender binary exists… but not men? Like, do men just not exist in this story or do they not exist in this world? Characters use terms like girlfriend, mother, sister, and aunt but do they know that they’re using gendered pronouns? If yes, why enforce the dichotomy by having Elliot break it?

I know that most readers absolutely adored this story, but being thrown into a fantasy world with little to no explanation just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t help but question everything–which I knew was taking away from my own enjoyment, but my mind wouldn’t quit. Like, why are the spaceships shaped like fish? How do the buildings float and keep their inhabitants alive? What the heck does Mia learn in her boarding school? Cellphones exist but I guess not email or the internet? Mia literally “want[s] to infiltrate one of the most deadly and secluded areas of space… to talk to” Grace but she can’t, I don’t know, look her up somewhere???

What I thought about doing once I’d finished.

Walden’s illustrations were seriously gorgeous, with even the coloring contributing to the narrative, but I didn’t even have the patience to stare at the background details because I remained confused for literally the entire novel. My focus drifted among characters who looked the same and gave important backstory through quick dialogue. By the end, though, I was quickly flipping pages, hoping that maybe the next one would give me some clarity. (Spoiler: it never did.)

Month in Review: December 2018


Favorite Media

Botched is one of the few shows I can stand to watch with commercials, but for some reason, I also thought it ended in 2015?? Idk. E! broadcast all of the previous episodes in preparation for season five, and I was in a happy couch-watching state for the better part of two weeks catching up on the two seasons I’d missed.

Even though I’ve never read the books (nor want to) AND watched the show since it first premiered, none of the previous Outlander seasons have been must-see TV before now. I honestly don’t know what it is that makes me choose it over other shows, but I watch enthralled for a full hour and then practically salivate until Sundays.

Stuff I Added to My Queue

I have no idea where I first heard about Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used for God, but the stories within sound just slightly off that I think I’ll dig ’em. (It also has over four stars???)

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung is getting All. The. Hype. and I am Here. For. It.

Joyce Carol Oates’ latest, Hazards of Time Travel, doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I enjoy her writing and it’s also about time travel so…. 🤷‍♀️

I feel like How to Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson just kind of like speaks to me on a spiritual level because sometimes men are just so UGH that I can’t even deal with their bullshit. But then they’re like OMG YES and I can.

Sometimes I just want to forget that the 2016 election happened and, instead, be lulled to sleep by a 500-page oral history on the eight years Obama spent in the White House. (Brian Abrams coming in for the clutch!)

On a Sunbeam initially debuted as a webcomic, but Tillie Walden heard our prayers and let me lounge and read without having to deal with WiFi or scrolling or clicking.

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick: And Other Essays is a (yet another) book that lulled me in by its cover, but I’m also pretty sure the poignant take on race and pop culture will keep me deliciously full.

On My Radar

  • The final season of Game of Thrones drops in April, and I low-key kind of want to rewatch seasons one through seven to like mentally prepare myself for the end. (But will this also make me more emotional???) I really only bring this up because if I want to do it, I need to start real soon and I am not at all ready.
  • I am trying to read for ~30 minutes per day (see my 2019 goals!), but the amount of good shows coming back in January is going to seriously test my ability to pay attention to anything textual: True DetectiveThe Magicians!! Brooklyn Nine-Nine!! UGH NOT FAIR

What were YOU up to in December? Let me know!

Top Ten: Books on My Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme was books on my winter 2018/19 TBR. These quarterly posts are my favorite to post: not only because I love to peek at what’s being published in the next few months, but also because I love the structure this kind of TBR provides. (Even though I almost never follow my own choices!)

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green // A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness // Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen // How the Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone by Brian McCullough // In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker // Night Film by Marisha Pessl // On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden // The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder // You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories by Kristen Roupenian

* ETA: Nasty Women by 404 Ink was replaced by In Cold Blood.