Published by Thomas Dunne on October 4th 2016
Source: Author Review Copy
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy & Magic, LGBT
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When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.
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.
Gorgeous writing with characters that make your heart ache and a lush storyline exploring humility, empathy, and love, Anne-Marie McLemore yet again writes a book that just tugged on my heartstrings. I really adored her previous book The Weight of Feathers, and this one was just as good. When the Moon Was Ours blends magical realism with diverse elements to create a unique and colorful story that truly stands out in the realm of fiction.
When they were gone from this town, no one would remember… They would remember only that Miel and Sam had been called Honey and Moon, a girl and a boy woven into the folklore of this place.
Miel is a mysterious girl who came out of the water tower of a small town that dumped the contents of the tower when it got too old and rusty. She grows roses out of her wrists, although it is unclear why. Most people think those roses help with love spells, but that might just be because the woman who took her in cures lovesickness. Sam, or Samir, is a transgender boy who hides the fact that his body doesn’t match who he wants to be from the rest of the world. He paints glowing moons throughout the town, because even though they might comment on his skin color or the lack of presence of his father, his moons bright more than ever. His secret, though, isn’t the only secret of the inhabitants of the town as readers discover more about the different characters that shape up the plot.
A small problem I had with The Weight of Feathers that also extends to this book was just how slow the plot could be. There is a very subtle progression that readers will definitely appreciate as the focus is more on characterization and lush descriptions, but I couldn’t help but feel like the pace would be dragging every so often. Despite the slow pace, it was still a highly enjoyable story that made me tear at times. A big part of that was seeing what the characters had to deal with based on their body or sexuality. But I really love the way McLemore explores these issues and the gradual, sweet resolution that comes out of it.
Hispanic and Pakistani culture really shine throughout the story, with subtle references to yummy food or traditions that each one had. I thought that a really great addition was the one where in Pakistan, a girl would take up the role as the man of the family until a certain age and act as the head. Sam justifies his transition as keeping up with that tradition, but eventually he faces the choice on whether or not his fear of being exposed is more than his want to stay as a boy. We follow his realistic, sometimes heartbreaking but overall difficult thought process throughout the story as he discovers who he really want to be. Miel, on the other hand, slowly figures out her past – including before she found in the water tower – and perhaps the reason why roses grow out of her wrists.
As though the truth of his body was any of their business, as though they had a right to consider how he lived an affront to them.
Sam’s secret becomes threatened by the fierce Bonner girls, however, as they threaten to expose it if Miel doesn’t hand over the roses that she grows. It turns out the Bonner girls also have secrets of their own, and it takes a big step of humility to recognize what they’re doing may not be the best way to cope.
The relationship progression in the book is at a steady pace, especially as Sam and Miel are already quite close when the story starts. McLemore’s writing is so exquisite, and the imagery so easy to imagine in your head. This is a love story between two best friends, but it also explores the love of family (siblings and parents), discovery, and empathy that allows the characters to conquer their fears and figure out what they truly want. Mixed with stunning visuals and unique cultural references, the magic in these words really breathe life into the story.
“But if the moon in the sky could move whole oceans, then maybe, if he wanted it enough, every moon he’d made could pull at this water. It could draw it into the sky like a ribbon and turn it to ice crystals and clouds.”
Although slow, When the Moon Was Ours is a heartfelt and luscious tale of love and acceptance that readers should pick up. It explores so many important things, from characters of color and the prejudices they face to the effects of hiding a character’s sexuality. So many diverse elements are included in this story, creating a multifaceted exploration on the emotions that come from out heart, and the feelings that drive it.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you Thomas Dunne and MacMillan for the review copy!