Saturday, February 27, 2021

YA Graphic Novel Review: A Map to the Sun

I recently finished reading the teen/YA graphic novel A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong. It turned out to be far more intricate than I expected, delving into the lives of five teen girls in California, all dealing with issues related to family, school, and poverty. A basketball team--and a caring teacher--save them.

Ren and Luna first meet during the summer between eighth and ninth grades. Luna spends most of her time in the water, surfing, and Ren prefers to spend her time on the basketball court, but one day Luna sees Ren on the beachside court, and they strike up a friendship. Luna is from Oahu, but she's staying with her aunt in California because her mother is very ill. The two girls end up spending every day together all summer long and become very close. Ren is excited for how great high school will be with Luna by her side but then, Luna vanishes without a word and moves back to Oahu. Ren is badly hurt that her friend never called or texted or stayed in touch. Now, three years later, Luna is back, but Ren is determined not to let her in and get hurt again. Meanwhile, Ren is also struggling with her family and her grades. Then, a kind teacher, who is new to the school and not used to the lack of funding, starts a girls' basketball team for the first time. There are a lot of naysayers, including the boys' coach who doesn't want anything to take away from his team's meager funding and sees girls' sports as a waste. But the five girls, including Ren and Luna, and their coach persevere. They're terrible at first, but with training, practice, and gradually learning to trust each other, the ragtag team begins to improve, as they also learn about friendship and teamwork.

2 sample pages from A Map to the Sun

There is so much more to this book than I first imagined. Basketball literally saves these girls' lives, and they face huge challenges to even forming a team, let alone getting any good. It's a diverse team, but the five girls all come from poverty and are dealing with serious issues in and out of school, which are all explored in this novel. Then, there are the illustrations that help to tell their story--I'm not even sure how to describe the unique look of this graphic novel. The pages are saturated in color; when you look at the edges of the pages, it looks like a rainbow. The deep, ever-changing colors help to tell the story, separating scenes and providing the reader with a certain feel or mood each time. This approach, along with the book's intricate, emotionally complex plot, create a unique and immersive reading experience. You'll be rooting for these girls to win not just their games but their lives.

368 pages, First Second

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.


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  1. Those illustrations look fantastic and this sounds like my kind of book! It's going onto the TBR pile and I'll see if I can find it at one of the local high school libraries when they open in a couple weeks.

    1. Oooh ... libraries opening! How exciting! Our state libraries are still all closed, curbside pickup only.

      I think you will like this one, Helen.

  2. I've really been enjoying all of your graphic novel reviews lately! This was one of those books I would have immediately bought if not for some criticism from other reviewers. After seeing your glowing and thorough review (and the beautiful sample pages), I think I'll have to pick up a copy! Thanks for the great review!

    1. So, of course, I had to go see what others reviewers criticized! Seems some thought she brought up too many topics/issues and didn't fully resolve all of them. To me, that was just because it's realistic! These kids in poor urban areas with little school funding and dealing with poverty are dealing with a LOT of issues - that just seemed true to life to me, as well as the fact that ALL of their problems aren't neatly wrapped up in a bow by the end ... but the basketball team gave them hope and something to live for. Hope you like it!