Review: “The Sunlight Pilgrims” by Jenni Fagan

Cristen Hooper

3 Stars

November 7, 2017

When I originally read the synopsis of this book, I was under the impression that it was set much further in the future. This was not the author's fault; it clearly says 2020. My brain just happens to believe that I still live in 2007. Maybe I'm secretly hoping they bring back low-rise jeans and velour tracksuits. 

Books that take place in a specific year that aren't in the past, the distant future, or part of a weird alternate reality, irritate me. At some point, the actual year of the reader is going to surpass the fictional year of the story. I call this the Back to the Future effect. It's difficult to suspend disbelief when you're too busy pouting that you don't have a hoverboard yet. People in 2020 are going to read this book and (hopefully) say, "Gee, it's pretty warm for an ice age." 

Let's talk about that ice age, anyway. Fagan's tale takes place in BFE, Scotland. Clachan Fells, to be exact. Temperatures are dropping at an alarming rate and there's an iceberg coming. At least, that's what Fagan wants you to believe this story is about. It's what is advertised on the back of the book, after all. The real story is about 12-year-old Stella, though, a transgender girl. And THAT narrative is amazing. I wish Fagan hadn't felt the need to wrap Stella's story in something more palatable for conventional audiences. 

Fagan does a wonderful job of narrating the familiar anxiety of a 12-year-old kid and marrying it with the more unfamiliar anxiety of being a transgender teen. You feel every moment of Stella's angst as she tries to navigate within an unyielding world. For me, someone who is not transgender and doesn't personally know someone who is transgender, this story was enlightening and thoughtfully written.

My only other issue with "The Sunlight Pilgrims" is that it's not a full story. It's a slice of a story. It's the valley between two big mountains - the big events that happened before you, the reader, were dropped in, and the big events you anticipate are about to happen. I loved some of the characters. But, in the end, I felt like I didn't get to know them very well.

Although I was given this book free through to review, all opinions stated are my own.