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.
Anna-Marie McLemore got on my radar last year, when I was lucky enough to receive an e-arc of her debut novel, The Weight of Feathers, which I absolutely adored and was definitely one of my favourite reads last year. So, when I heard she had another book out, I knew I had to read it!
Of course, as soon as I received the review copy, I started having doubts: “What if this one’s not as good as her debut? What if I hate it after savouring it so much?”. You know the kind. But let me tell you right now, no such risk! Not liking it? Pffffttt! I LOVED it!
When the Moon Was Ours is a sweet, original read that somehow manages to fuse relevant themes with a simple, everyday story about two fairly unusual teenagers falling in love. And to top it all off, the deal is sealed by McLemore’s gorgeous prose, which makes even the simplest of actions sound like pure poetry. And just like that, I was sold!
What I loved most about this book (as is the case with most books I love, if you think about it) were the characters. Not just the main characters, but the whole cast. Everyone has their own space in the story, be it bigger or smaller, and the role that they play in the book does not limit their existence as an individual character: even the minor ones have their own peculiarities, their background and their position in a way that made me really feel like they were their own person at the sidelines. They were just not the ones we were focusing on in telling this story.
As for the main characters, I loved Miel and Sam to bits. Both of them are really complex people, not just because of their past, but at the same time because they start to realise that they have to start thinking about their future as well. Having to deal with a traumatic past is a challenge in itself, but I really liked the fact that this was not the sole focus of either one of the main characters: your teens are the years when you start figuring out not just who you are, but also what kind of person you want to be for the rest of your life. And because it’s so difficult to keep up with everything that goes on around us, resisting pressures from society, family, friends and your own set of expectations, it’s also that period of time when you realise it’s ok to make mistakes, and that you don’t have to be stuck with them forever. The trick is surrounding yourself with people you love and trust, and who respect you and accept you no matter what. And that, I believe, is one of the key lessons anyone can take from this book.
But of course, because it is a tiny gem in the great treasure of YA literature this year, the greatest thing about this book is that any one person reading it can have a different take on it. The author does a fantastic job of incorporating so many different themes and points of view, that there is just something for everyone to keep thinking about for days after having finished the book. You can start with diversity and the acceptance of those people who feel “different”, be it because they grow roses from their wrist or because their skin is darker or they speak another language; then you can move on to thinking about what makes us who we are, re-thinking the relationship we have with our bodies; you can start considering just how much pressure are we willing to take from society in determining who we have to be, just for the sake of appearances, letting those expectations of ourselves crush the realities of the wonderful being each one of us can be at the full potential of his or her individuality. And if that’s still not enough for you, there are loads of prompts to reflect on family, friends, love and so, so much more…
Definitely a book I will re-read in a while, just to see if there is anything else I can pick up on and one I will absolutely force on gently recommend to everyone I know, When the Moon Was Ours is a complete must-read for this year, and Anna-Marie McLemore is an author to really watch out for!