A Map To The Sun by Sloane Leong
Publisher: First Second (Fierce Reads)
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Summary: 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.
*Received a digital review copy via the author*
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: A Map To The Sun is a YA graphic novel all about navigating friendship, basketball, and life off the court! A newly formed all-girls basketball team allows Ren and Luna, who were once inseparable friends over the course of a summer, to find their way back to each other again. Colorful, vibrant, and detailed artwork blends perfectly with the gritty, slice of life story across its pages and is sure to captivate!
One specific category of graphic novels that I’m really starting to get back into and make me automatically add it to my tbr is anything related to sports! I’d really been looking forward to this graphic novel and Leong delivers a quiet slice-of-life tale, which layers in deep introspection to its characters and their journeys.
I think readers much like myself who may have been expecting a more fast-paced story (like that of The Avant-Guards) will be pleasantly surprised at the lingering depth of the slice-of-life narrative, grittiness, and metaphorical depth that this graphic novel carries!
Ren and Luna meet one day during a typical summer at the beach and instantly become great friends. Their days quickly blend together, in an almost dream-like way, where they learn deeper parts about each other as they surf, play basketball, and enjoy adventures on the beach. The dialogue emphasizes the little details we learn about people and how they influence us. Suddenly, as Ren & Luna’s summer friendship continues to blossom, it ends as quickly as it begun.
Luna has to leave for Oahu to see her ill mother and Ren, who tries to reach out before their time is up, is left hanging. As 2 years pass, Ren never forgets the loneliness and pain of being ignored after Luna’s quick departure.
When Luna returns, she seems to fit in quickly being invited to parties and meeting lots of new people, but there’s still a rift between them. While Ren has moved on and found other friends, Luna’s absence wasn’t forgotten.
When Ren’s friends Nell and Jetta are given cleaning duties in the gym and a new teacher is looking to form a new basketball team, slowly but surely a team is formed. Over the course of the story this team symbolizes many things for the girls: home, support, and a chance to strengthen their friendships!
Although Ren and Luna struggle to find their footing with each other, they find ways to rekindle what they thought was long forgotten.
Throughout the novel, Leong emphasizes and navigates the girls lives off the court and what goes on in the day-to-day. What resonated with me about this major beat of the story was how REAL it felt…the characters, different topics that are discussed, and especially the realism explored through each of the girls perspectives. They each grapple with something in their lives that gives a deep weight and meaning to their journey.
Some of what’s explored is estranged family, body image, family loss, especially navigating relationships (mainly friendship) when people find their way back into your life. While that last theme is explored mainly through Ren’s POV, you see this navigated through the other girls POVs too.
The writing navigates general dialogue with Ren’s POV and not only is it poetic, but there’s lots of beautiful imagery that captures the intense emotions that Ren feels about her friendship with Luna. The loneliness, comfort, and growth to not only their friendship, but also to Ren’s family life as she’s dealing with her estranged sister.
What elevates all the wonderful elements about the plot in A Map To The Sun, is the masterful art and style. It has a soft, rough and stylized hand-drawn quality to it that makes the story feel so real. Honestly, each page looked like a beautiful painting.
While vibrant, the color palette also featured dark, muted colors that are visually stunning! The aesthetics of the art embodies summer and makes it a perfect read for this season.
The paneling of this graphic novel is perfect in every way! No matter what page, you see the story flows so well. Some of my favorite pages included backgrounds or settings that beautifully transitioned into the following scene: for example on page 6 when Ren shoots a basket, it beautifully transforms into a rising wave that we see Luna riding on her board, with a stunning golden yellow, pink, and deep reddish-pink colors.
What also makes the art stand out is the gradient of color you see as you continue to read. There’s a rainbow of varying colors that make there way throughout each page that alter to present a different mood, weather, energy/emotion of the characters, or a particular scene. There’s also an emphasis on the quiet silence or lack of dialogue that lets the art speak for the cast in moments that really move you to see the underlying emotion or introspection. Overall, the art is an absolute highlight of this graphic novel!
As the team grows together, we see Leong discuss and navigate different topics from body image, difficult family life, smoking, even moments of misogyny (mainly from the other basketball coach). Each girl is tackling something, either internally or externally in their lives, and while some plot threads may feel incomplete, the story doesn’t shy away from talking about them (tw// for panel depicting self-harm).
A Map To The Sun also features such a diverse cast of characters, with our main character Ren being Black, Luna is 1/2 Hawaiian and Chinese, Jetta is half-Native and Latine, Nell is Jamaican, and So-Young is Korean.
The only reason I’m giving this 4 stars (though I adored this book a lot) is because while the story balances the girl’s school/team and life outside of that very well, it feels like overall it stuck more with the slice-of-life storyline. While I absolutely love those kinds of stories, here it felt like the plot really wandered and the story, while unpredictable, had storylines either left incomplete or briefly wrapped up (like in the end when Ren & Luna talk about their friendship or when we learn more about Ren’s estranged sister Vida).
Despite that, this is a wonderful read I highly recommend picking up! I’m not sure whether Leong will continue the team’s stories in future volumes, but I loved that the ending does leave possible threads for it to explore more of the girls team/friendship.
The characters feel so incredibly real in this early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, friendship, and just navigating life!
A Map To The Sun is a delight graphic novel filled with so much depth and heart! The characters feel incredibly real and the art is striking as it is colorful, metaphorical, and vibrant! Leong’s tale of friendship is set in the early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, and teens just navigating life! Perfect for those who love sports stories, looking for more slice-of-life stories not only about friendship, but also self!
I’ll also be linking Black Lives Matter resources: A list from NPR (featuring books, films & podcasts) and this Twitter thread &Tumblr Post linking carrds for BLM among others to inform on what’s happening in other parts of the world. Also this thread of Journalism pieces about BLM.