When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Thomas Dunne on October 4, 2016
Genres: [Young Adult] Fantasy, Magical Realism, LGBTQ+
3.5 Stars, Completed September 25, 2016
– SPOILER free –
When the Moon Was Ours is a magical realism tale that intricately weaves multicultural elements and LGBTQ+ themes by narrating a romance between two childhood friends. Miel, the mysterious girl found in the town’s water tower, has always been considered an outcast because the hem of her skirts are often a little damp and she has roses growing out of her wrist. Sam, also thought peculiar by the community for his deep olive tone skin and silent demeanor, is the boy that paints moons and hangs them in trees so that the town’s children can sleep with sweet dreams. Since the moment they met they’ve been totally inseparable; it’s only natural that when they grow up the platonic love they had as kids develops into something more. However, they aren’t able to earn their happily ever after immediately because the Bonner sisters, four beautiful girls rumored to be witches, have decided they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, and they’re prepared to reveal all of Miel’s secrets to the townspeople until she gives them up.
I have a good feeling that readers that adored The Weight of Feathers are going to equally love this one.
Like McLemore’s debut novel, the writing was so beautifully and poetically constructed. There’s a good divide and balance between getting to know the two main leads and their very different internal struggles. And McLemore effortlessly incorporates cultural and gender identity as integral attributes to her characters.
The closer she got to him, the more she felt it in her roses, like a moon pulling on a sea.
The romance is really beautiful, and I loved the main couple together-even more than I liked Cluck and Lace from The Weight of Feathers actually. The unconditional love and support the two had for one another was heartwarming and awe-inspiring to witness.
Someday, he and Miel would be nothing but a fairy tale. When they were gone from this town, no one would remember the exact brown of Miel’s eyes, or the way she spiced recado rojo with cloves, or even that Sam and his mother were Pakistani. At best, they would remember a dark eyed girl, and a boy whose family had come from somewhere else. They would remember only that Miel and Sam had been called Honey and Moon, a girl and boy woven into the folklore of this place.
And though readers only spend a couple of days with these characters, it feels like they’ve known the cast for their entire lives because of the thorough background McLemore shares. The bond between Sam and Miel is so special (not at all unforgettable as the quote above suggests) and one I’ll probably remember for a while.
To the boys who get called girls,
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names,
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges,
and in the spaces in between.
I wish for you every light in the sky.
Along the way, in the authorial intent and post-note, readers also learn why there is such great insight in the love story between the young girl and transgender boy. This mystical story not only appears to be special to the reader but also for the author. At the end of the novel, McLemore mentions how the inspiration behind When the Moon Was Ours was loosely inspired by her own identity and past struggles; a lot of herself was woven into Miel’s character and some of her husband, who is trans, in Sam.
Whatever they said about her liking girls or liking boys was a handful of water next to the whole river. It could not make her stranger, more unsettling to everyone else, than she already was.
As mentioned earlier, I was also super happy that we got a lot of line distribution and monologues from Miel even though Sam is the transgender role. (I’ve noticed that a lot of books sort of get carried away with the LGBTQ+ voices, and the perspectives of the straight and/or other characters sort of get neglected in the process.) Learning her thoughts and vulnerabilities about her own identity and the perspective she holds on her relationship with Sam was both necessary and enlightening to readers.
However, there are still a few things to nitpick:
Although the world is lush and original, being an avid, well-read reader of fantasy, I wasn’t keen about the ambiguous magic system. Much of the otherworldly elements are left unexplained, which may be a problem for some readers. But perhaps this shortcoming can be explained by the genre this book falls under. (I feel like it’s difficult to judge magical realism standalones since there’s such great leeway of detailedness with the lore. However, personally I prefer more elaborate fantasies than the arbitrary ones.)
Also, I’m someone that struggles with interpreting lyrical, verbose prose. I sometimes found passages to be confusing and a tad repetitive (like the fact that Miel was afraid of pumpkins or Sam noticing “everything he had between his legs and what he didn’t”). However, in hindsight, I still thought When the Moon Was Ours was one of the more comprehensible magical realism stories that I’ve read because McLemore does do an adequate job filling in readers of what’s going on in the bigger scheme of the plot.
So, in all, I think the writing is an influential factor of whether or not readers will connect with this story. But it can’t be denied that the motifs this book decides to tackle is tremendous and noteworthy. And for that reason alone, if readers can overlook the flowery prose and enjoy the lyrical flow (or if they can appreciate those aspects from the start), When the Moon Was Ours will be an outstanding YA magical realism romance that will touch their hearts.
Special thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin and Thomas Dunne for allowing me to participate in this blog tour and sending me this electronic review copy of When the Moon Was Ours. In no way did this affect my reading experience or honest review.