One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.
Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.
Sloane Leong’s evocative storytelling about the lives of these young women is an ode to the dynamic nature of friendship.
I was provided an ARC in exchange for an honest review by the author; this does not impact or influence my opinion.
I genuinely cannot remember the last time I read something in one sitting. I struggle a lot with focusing on one task for extended periods of time; even with novellas or short works of fiction that I can easily finish in an hour, it’ll probably take me more than a few sittings to finish it. With A Map to the Sun though, I read it all in one sitting, engrossed by its vibrant and beautiful pages and hopelessly compelled by the graphic novel’s cast of flawed and imperfect teenage girls. That, for me, is a testament to how wonderful I thought this graphic novel was.
A Map to the Sun begins with an electric friendship between a girl called Ren and a girl called Luna. Ren and Luna hit it off immediately, at first bonding over basketball and later enjoying each other’s company – until Luna leaves suddenly, leaving Ren without closure. Two years later, Luna returns, and her and Ren’s friendship no longer feels the same. What follows is a story about how basketball brings five girls and their own journeys, struggles, and lives together, and they discover the importance of friendship and how it holds us up.
First of all, A Map to the Sun is absolutely gorgeous. I really love Leong’s art style and felt that it suited the story told in A Map to the Sun. Leong’s art style employs bold line-art and I loved how it brought the characters and their expressions to life. I’m also in awe of how Leong deftly captures the weight and impact of small moments and conveys tonal shifts in the story through the composition of the graphic novel’s panels.
But, what has my utmost love in A Map to the Sun is the use of colour. As an amateur artist, colour is something I struggle a lot with. There’s so much you can express with colour; atmosphere, emotions, feelings, energy. And my goodness, A Map to the Sun is such a beautiful example of why colour is not just a powerful tool for making things look good, but also a tool to aid in storytelling. If you flip through the book, it feels like you’re falling through a spectrum of colour – and it is so beautiful to behold. Read slowly and with the story, and you’ll find that A Map to the Sun is vibrant graphic novel that captures the many colours of life – dark, light, dull, bright, soft, and hard.
Preview of A Map to the Sun (above). Source: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250146687
I didn’t just enjoy A Map to the Sun for its illustration and art though – I also really liked its raw story about five different girls and how they have their own unique struggles. From issues with family relationships, grief of losing a loved one to how some relationships aren’t necessarily meaningful but just fill the gaps in your hearts, A Map to the Sun paints a really complex and intimate portrait of these five girls – Ren (who is Black), Luna (who is Hawaiian-Chinese), Jetta (who is Native-American and Latinx), Nell (who is Jamaican), and So-Young (who is Korean) – and the different ways that making the world a harsh place for being a girl growing into who you are. Whether it’s been ‘too’ fat, ‘too’ tall, ‘too’ quiet, ‘too’ unruly, ‘too’ loud, ‘too’ likeable, this book explores all the ways in which girls are stifled for taking up space.
The relationships between the five girls are the driving force behind the book’s story. If you watch sports anime, you’ll know that sports anime are rarely about the sport; the sport merely provides a context in which the characters can grow, change, and bond. A Map to the Sun reminded me of a sports anime in that sense – and I say this as a good thing. What I loved was how the characters, though different and imperfect in their own human ways, came together through basketball. Of course, how they come together is not perfect either – there’s conflict as personalities clash and the past resurfaces and create tension and rivalries.
Be warned: A Map to the Sun is not a neat and tidy story. It is messy, it lays bare vulnerable moments, and it unabashedly shows that these girls are not perfect – but that’s why I think it’s so important. This story gives room to girls who are angry, hurting, who lash out, withdraw, and make mistakes. A heads-up to those interested in reading this: There’s depiction of one instance of self-harm (it’s not very graphic, it is not gratuitous), a girl falls in love with a teacher (and it is challenged), there’s violence (though not depicted) and one of the girls almost gets sexually assaulted.
Importantly, A Map to the Sun is not how friendship saves these girls and solves all their problems. Rather, A Map to the Sun is a tribute to how friendship buoys us and keeps us afloat when we feel like we’re drowning in the sea of our pain and struggle and hurt and drama, and how friendship is that ray of light that there are people who will look out and care for you – and that is all we really need sometimes, right?
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
As I said, this story lays bare to the every day and real experiences of teenagers, but underlying this story is one of hope and light – that, despite all the ugly and bad and messiness in the world, you can also find your people (even if they are a bunch of misfits like you) who will keep you afloat. And I think that’s such an important message.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A group of five girls are forced into joining the school’s girl’s basketball team, bringing rise to tensions, rivalries, dramas, and friendship as their worlds collide.
Perfect for: Readers who love vibrant and bold illustrations in graphic novels; readers who like to read about messy and imperfect characters.
Think twice if: Readers who don’t like to read about drama between characters.
Genre: young adult graphic novel, contemporary drama
Trigger/content warning: threat of sexual assault (doesn’t actually happen); depiction of self-harm; relationship between minor and teacher (challenged throughout); violence; smoking; alcohol consumption; mentions of drugs; death of loved one; mention of cancer.