Before I set up The Reading Desk on WordPress, I played around with book blogging on another website. Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon, is one of the books I reviewed there and I wrote, “this book is for those who are willing to bleed because of a book. For those who are willing to look at reality under a microscope. For those willing to go on a journey, not knowing if they will come out stronger, or emerge broken.” Having read The Sunlight Pilgrims, I can reiterate the sentiment.
Set in an imagined Ice Age that is descending upon the Earth, the book revolves around three characters. Dylan, struggling to cope with loss, has come to Clachan Fells to scatter the ashes of his mother and his grandmother (whose brithplace is nearby). Constance is a bold, strong woman who makes a living refurbishing thrift store finds. Stella, Constance’s 12 year old daughter is a transgender girl, on the cusp of puberty, dealing with bullying, and a body that betrays her. Living together in a trailer park filled with odd characters, the lives of these three intertwine and weave the fabric of this rich, layered book.
In The Panopticon, it became clear that Fagan’s strength is her characters and here that strength is displayed in full. Dylan and his grief are palpable, but it is Fagan’s heroines that truly shine. Constance is irreverent, unpologetic and the kind of mother I hope to be some day. Stella is adorable, with a quiet strength that grows through her vulnerability. She truly stole my heart and I absolutely could not get enough of her.I found myself rooting for these and the other characters, and truly caring for them.
Fagan touches on many social issues ranging from climate change, the daily struggles of living as a trans person, to the need for diverse books. But she does so with light, deft strokes, creating a clear picture without seeming “preachy.” This, its perfectly paced narrative, atmospheric quality, and dialogue that shines, makes this the sort of book one never wants to put down.
There is symbolism here, but there is also intimacy. There is a biting, inescapable cold; but there is also the warmth of hope. There is grief, and challenges and tears; but there is also joy, and laughter and love. The Sunlight Pilgrims is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read this year, and is one that I would definitely reccomend to everyone.
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.