Yellow silhouettes of a boy and a girl on opposite sides of a black water tower reach toward each other. White stars and moons on strings hang in the sky against a purple background. Text: "A Novel: When the Moon Was Ours. Anna-Marie McLemore."

Young Adult Book Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore


Synopsis

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.


Details

  • Title: When the Moon Was Ours
  • Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
  • Cover Artist: Lisa Marie Pompilio
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN: 125005866X
  • Publication Date: October 4, 2016
  • For Ages: 12-18
  • Category: Young Adult
  • Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 😿 Spooky-Sad.
  • Content Warnings: transphobia (challenged), incidents similar to self-harm, child abuse

Review

When I read a particularly beautiful or arresting passage of a book, I linger on it, letting the words roll around in my mouth to savor their texture and flavor. It doesn’t happen with every book; when it does, it’s usually not that often and only consists of a couple of sentences. To my shock and utter delight, though, When the Moon Was Ours was filled almost entirely with these kinds of passages, consisting of whole chapters that made me slow down and marvel at their otherworldly beauty.

This is the story of Miel, a Latinx girl who washed out of a water tower one day and has roses growing out of her wrist, and Samir, a Pakistani boy who hangs the moon wherever he can. The whole town believes Miel is a fearsome witch because of her roses and her emergence from the water and the fact that she lives with a curandera named Aracely who cures the lovesick people of the town. The truly fearsome witches, however, may be the Bonner girls, las gringas bonitas, who beguile the boys and men of the town and take whatever they want for themselves…including Miel’s roses.

Anna-Marie McLemore’s prose is shimmering and poetic, creating a dreamlike narrative that showcases the beauty and wistfulness of magical realism. Glass pumpkins grow out of the ground in jewel tones. Lovesickness takes physical form, flying out of a window once it’s been wrenched from the body of a spurned lover. A mysterious woman emerges fully formed from a cloud of thousands of butterflies. McLemore’s lyrical style breathes life into her delicate fairy tale, showing readers the possibility that lies within each of us to become who we are truly meant to be.

The idea of becoming yourself and living your truth applies to all the characters in the book, but it would be an act of erasure on my part to pull focus from the story of Samir, the transgender boy who hangs the moon. For the most part, Samir’s friends and family give him the time and space he needs to understand his true feelings and true self, and we get the privilege of seeing him work through the complicated thoughts and emotions that come with being a trans teen.

I’m cisgender, so please take my opinions here with every grain of salt in existence, but Samir’s depiction feels insightful and authentic to me. His characterization is empathetic and lovingly crafted in the acknowledgments and the author’s note, McLemore states that her relationship with her husband, who is trans, inspired much of the story. She also says that he helped her a great deal in writing Samir by answering questions about his experiences as a trans boy; that level of care and intimacy shines through in the book, which is one of the most touching coming out stories and one of the loveliest romances I’ve ever read.

When the Moon Was Ours is a tale that will wrap you up and whisper to you, promising heartache and pain but assuring you that it will all be worth it in the end. It will tell you that who you are inside is who you really are; it will tell you that no one else has the right to decide what to do with your name or your body or your identity. It will tell you that magic exists, that hope exists, that possibility exists. And  especially for the brilliant, shining time that you spend lost in its pages — it will be right.


Rating

This book is masterful. I give it 5 out of 5 coffins.

5 Coffins


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