Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

Title: The Sunlight Pilgrims
Author: Jenni Fagan
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Crown Publishing

Rating: A+

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Crown Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: Strange, insightful and emotional. This is one of those books that it takes a while to wrap your mind around. What did I just read? But not in a bad way. Not at all in a bad way. This is a good book. A very, very good book. For many reasons. It’s just difficult to sum up what the book really is.

On the surface, it’s about an odd collection of people living through (or hoping to live through) the roughest winter the world has ever experienced. Thanks to climate change, it appears that the next Ice Age may very well be arriving well ahead of schedule, and in a caravan park in a rural area of Scotland, a misfit band of individuals are determined to find a way through. One of these misfits is a young transgender girl, Stella, who is entering puberty a year after she began living fully as a girl. As she lives in a very small, rural community, her transition has been wrought with challenges, but she is determined to brave her way through it. She knows who she is and the rest can just bugger off.

As well, there is a man from outside (Dylan), an Incomer, who is experiencing his first winter in the caravan, having lost his only family – his mother and his grandmother, and his livelihood all in a very short period of time. He’s come to the caravan park because his mother has purchased a caravan there the year before, and left it to him, and he really has nowhere else to go.

Stella’s mother Constance is brilliant and irreverent and resourceful and independent and exactly the kind of mother you’d want to have if you had to go through something as difficult as transitioning in a close knit and isolated place.

These three characters make up the whole of this character driven story, embracing each other’s differences – those things the outside world doesn’t always tolerate well, and embracing the danger and beauty this perilous winter brings. While the rest of the world is living in fear, hunkering down, giving up, anticipating the worst, these three do what they can to prepare themselves, but keep on living every day, and recognizing all of the wonder that this particular winter brings.

There is so much to love about this book, but Stella’s experience was the most profound for me. I’ve never read anything that touched on the experiences of someone who is transgendered, and this author really brought it to life in a way that is visceral and relatable. It is one thing to intellectually know that something is difficult, it is another thing entirely to step into the shoes of someone going through it and get a more genuine taste of their experience. It was painful and I’m thankful.

Definitely falls into the must read category for me.

2 Replies to “Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan”

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