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!
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Wonderful review, Aila! I haven’t read The Weight of Feathers, though I have it on my tbr-list as well as this latest novel. I don’t often read magical realism, but I’m curious about this one. I can deal with slow pacing so hopefully this wouldn’t be an issue for me.
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Thank you Ksenia! This would be a great foray into magical realism, as the author weaves it seamlessly within the rest of the story. Hope you pick it up soon! <3
Oh this really sounds like a lovely read! I'm glad it brought out so many diverse elements!
Great review, Aila, I'm happy to see you enjoyed this!
I still need to read The Weight of Feathers but really enjoy magical realism so need to check out both. It being slow scares me a little because I do so poorly with slow pacing. I do love the diversity that this book seems to have. Great review!
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The slow pace works out with the gorgeous prose though Grace, so I don't think you'll have much of a problem with it. 🙂 I really hope you enjoy both this and The Weight of Feathers when you get the chance to check them out!
I am so excited to read this, especially after your review because it sounds so amazing! Can't wait!
Yay, I can't wait for you to start either Anisha! I sincerely hope you love it as much as I did 🙂
This sounds like the perfect diverse read! I love how it explores so many different facets of diversity, from sexuality and Hispanic/Pakistani culture. I just gout this out from the library and I'm looking forward to reading it!
Yayyyyy Jeann!! *dances around* I can't wait for you to start this one! It's definitely a poignant, diverse book that everyreader should consider picking up.
Great review! I heard only great things about this story, and I can't wait to read it 🙂
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I really hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to pick it up Marie! It's definitely one that shouldn't be missed.
I really liked this one, too! I want to see more books like this!
Me too Leah! I pretty much will read anything this author writes haha.
aww what a beautiful and inspired review. I briefly scanned this book. I love the sound of magical realism in it, sounds fantastic. With the slow pace, I might have to wait for the right kind of mood to try it
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That may be the case Lily! Personally I thought the prose was gorgeous enough to keep me going despite the pace but I can see why you would have to be in the right mood for it.
I agree, I loved this too. Her writing is just gorgeous! And I love your photo! I'm not sure if that wrist rose tattoo is real, but what a great idea:-)
Thank you! <3 haha no, I just sketched a rose drawing on my wrist in pen LOL. I thought it fit the magical elements of Miel's character.
I thought about picking this book up before, but I wanted to wait until the reviews started to come in. It's one of those books that I am sitting on the edge about. But, everyone seems to be really enjoying it. Might have to add it to my tbr. Thanks for the post.
My pleasure! I really hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to pick it up Angel 😀 I know I for one was not disappointed.
People are loving this book! I've seen so many good reviews lately. I'm glad you also enjoyed it! All I know is that it has a beautiful cover 😀
Thanks Ali! I really think you should pick this one up if you like heart-stopping romances and diverse characters 🙂