Plotting the Road Back
Navigate your way through this excellent coming-of-age tale written and illustrated by talented creator, Sloane Leong
Review by Lucy McLaughlin, Dark Matter Magazine Editor
July 30, 2020
Sloane Leong made a name for herself with the release of her comic book series Prism Stalker, which she created, wrote, and illustrated for Image Comics. Now on Volume 2, it is the story of a young girl’s struggle to change her circumstances while battling otherworldly unknowns. It’s definitely worth the read, and it had me excited to read and review Leong’s latest creation: young adult graphic novel, A Map to the Sun, published by First Second books. Unlike Prism Stalker, Map steers away from the sci-fi/fantasy themes for which Leong is so widely recognized, but the author’s expert ability to bring light to a deeper, more compassionate understanding of the human condition is still on full display.
The story follows a group of teenage girls as they navigate issues of family, friendship, and cultural identity. It begins one summer day when our protagonist, Ren, a brilliant basketball player, meets Luna, a free-spirited surfer from Oahu. They quickly become friends and spend the summer nurturing their new connection. Everything changes when an illness in the family suddenly calls Luna back to Oahu, which blindsides Ren and causes her to suffer through feelings of abandonment and loss.
Several years later, Luna returns, but she is not received with open arms. Luna tries her best to adjust to the many changes Ren and her new group of friends have gone through over the past couple of years, and finds varying degrees of success.
Central to the plot is the assembly of a new girl’s basketball team at the school, which Ren and her friends have joined. Forced together as teammates, the girls must now work together to win games and win each other’s trust, despite the many outside factors that seem determined to pull them apart.
Leong’s unique voice and knack for storytelling is strengthened by her incredible visuals and artistic direction. When the tone of the story shifts, the color scheme and illustration style often shifts with it so as to better reflect the emotion of the moment. It’s an effective tool at Leong’s disposal, and she wields it with masterful intent. Throughout the book, the pages exude an emotional gradient that guides the reader through the ups and downs of the girls’ lives.
Much like Prism Stalker, A Map to the Sun brings attention to the need for more diverse stories; stories that focus on issues like mental health and identity in communities that are often underrepresented. In Map, Ren struggles with trust, coming to terms with her sister’s addiction issues, and her father’s inability to cut her out of their life. Luna copes with the loss of her mother and the potential loss of her once strong friendship with Ren. Every girl in the group deals with their own personal challenges and questions about identity, including struggles with body image, sexuality, and race and gender discrimination. By the end of the book, Leong seems to suggest that the complications of life can be assuaged if we allow ourselves to open up and trust one another.
The story transcends its intended young adult audience. It highlights the idiosyncrasies and insecurities that follow us well beyond our adolescence and reminds us that we are always able to gather strength from the ones we love.
A Map to the Sun will be available for purchase on Tuesday, August 4, wherever books are sold. For a signed copy, check out Sloane’s local comic shop, Floating World Comics.
About the Reviewer
Lucy is a writer and project manager based in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from NYU with a degree in Medieval History, she went on to work as a contributing writer and editor for Teen Vogue, LifestyleMirror, and SELF Magazine, and as the Creative Director of HAZE Magazine. She has worked with clients such as Harper’s Bazaar, Athleta, and Tatler Magazine.