[Fagan] is disarmingly subtle. Rather than turning the book into some survivalist potboiler, she renders this new Ice Age in snatches of distant newscasts and school closures, an intimate, at times mundane view of the apocalypse that captures what so much apocalyptic literature loses: the way humans can become mute, withdrawn, and even darkly humorous in the face of doom, rather than running around in panic.
Fagan’s novel balances the oncoming climate disaster with the human-scale stories of these characters, focusing especially on Stella, whose feelings about her sexual identity are refreshingly resolute...Stella’s intrepid and sometimes dangerous attempts at self-care, and her coming-of-age under the pressure of societal disapproval and global threat, are the emotional anchors of the narrative. The interior lives of the adults in the novel are not quite as precisely drawn.
There is a good reason why apocalyptic novels often feature young protagonists: growing up does feel like the end of the world. For transgender Stella, this feeling is even more pronounced. She is becoming a teenager, and is horrified at the thought of her male puberty. We see her conflicts with her GP to get hormone blockers, and with her schoolmates to gain acceptance. Fagan contrasts the beginnings of Stella’s puberty beautifully with the unstoppable approach of a huge iceberg set to crush Scotland. The plot does drag a little in the second part of the book. Fagan also has a tendency to repeat strong and unusual images (the three suns, Constance as the woman polishing the moon) until they have lost their power. But these are small quibbles with what is otherwise an immersive and accomplished novel.
Not a great deal happens in The Sunlight Pilgrims, but Fagan draws an unsentimental, bleakly realistic picture of ordinary people refusing to believe the worst actually is at hand. Instead, they persist in living their everyday lives, worrying more about sex than about planetary doom, as they wait for the springtime that has always come before ... Fagan is good at capturing the delusions allowing her characters to fool themselves that everything will be just fine.
In The Sunlight Pilgrims Jenni Fagan paints a vivid picture of how people find diverse ways of getting through difficult circumstances ... Lacing the story with gentle (and occasionally black) humor, Jenni Fagan creates remarkable, rounded and wholly believable characters ... a beautiful story which itself illuminates, and perhaps above all it illuminates the importance of respecting difference.
Stella, hands down, steals the show. She is an astute mix of strength and empathy. Ms. Fagan’s poetic license casts a spell on her character sublimely ... However catastrophic the storm’s implications are, Jenni Fagan uses rich language and evocative tone to create an almost meditative landscape. Winter is both beautiful and destructive. Without the looming storm many of the fantastical events that bring the characters such joy would never take place.