When the Moon Was Ours is one of the best books I’ve ever read.
If I had to write a list of the five best YA books I know, it would for sure be there. I decided to reread it because I haven’t had the best luck with new books lately, and I’m so glad I did.
One of the strongest aspects of this story is the atmosphere. I don’t say this just because Anna-Marie McLemore’s prose is magical, which it is, but because there’s an attention paid to the details that is uncommon, even for a magical realism book.
I felt like I could walk along with the characters in their world. I knew the colors, the smells, everything I needed to know about the setting. This is the kind of writing that makes you crave alfajores de nieve, that makes you think about candied starflowers and carved pumpkins floating down the river. This is the kind of writing that makes you visualize everything perfectly, and if it doesn’t, it’s because you don’t know how that specific kind of pumpkin, or chicken egg, looks like. (I looked up a lot of things on google images. I love when books help me discover new things.)
This book also has a very autumnal feel to it, which makes it the perfect book for fall.
I don’t love this book just because it’s beautifully written. Like many of my favorites, to me When the Moon Was Ours is a very personal book. There are many reasons for that; one of them is the fact that, at its heart, this is a story about self-acceptance and the fact that people can still love you, care about you and accept you when you’re still struggling to accept yourself.
This novel follows two characters: Miel, a latinx girl who is struggling with her past and the roses that grow out of her wrist, which she sees as a curse, and Sam, an Italian-Pakistani trans boy still coming to terms with his identity. Miel and Sam are already in love at the beginning of the book, and this story follows them as they learn more about themselves. I love them both and I didn’t care that this book has very little external conflict, which to some may look like a lack of plot (I disagree).
There is a scene in Sam’s PoV that stood out to me, the one in which he comes out to his mother. In this scene, he finally admits to himself that he isn’t a bacha posh (cultural practice in which girls live as boys until they reach adulthood) because he isn’t a girl at all, he is a boy. And there are some paragraphs in which he wonders whether not being a bacha posh and being trans make him less Pakistani. This is something I never see in books about marginalized white Americans, but when you are a marginalized person and every media that represents you is about people that aren’t part of your culture, this is a thing you wonder. You wonder whether it makes you less [culture], whether you’re making it up because [marginalization] is only a thing that happens to Americans. To see it in a book, from the point of view of a character who is of Italian descent, it meant a lot to me.
Even just seeing a character of Italian descent who is not a stereotype in an American book means a lot to me, even though Sam’s Italian heritage isn’t relevant to the plot, even though there are some mistakes – listen. I love this book but to say that a character born in Campania was born near an ocean is such a geography fail – but I don’t care. Sam’s father comes from a family of Italian fishermen and so does mine, and I love when I find details that match.
There are so many other reasons I could point out to explain why When the Moon Was Ours is personal to me, but I’m going to write down just another one. I’ve never seen anyone mention this, but this book has specific phobia representation. Miel is afraid of pumpkins, and as someone who has an equally improbable plant-related phobia, I never thought I would see my experience in a book. Phobias are not a joke, even the ones that are odd, and this book gets it.
When the Moon Was Ours is also about so many other things. With the plotline involving the Bonner girls, four sisters who may or may not be witches, it talks about white people’s exploitation of brown people and their magic (which will become the main theme in Wild Beauty).
It is a story about a trans boy in which he is neither outed nor assaulted (though there is some misgendering), which are sadly common tropes, a story in which a trans boy gets to be the love interest. It is a sex-positive story, there’s a beautiful scene near the beginning about Miel and Sam having sex – and when I say beautiful I mean it, because Anna-Marie McLemore is the only author who is able to write a sex scene in a poetic way without making me cringe.
If you like magical realism, diverse love stories, or just want a really good book to read this fall, you shouldn’t miss out on When the Moon Was Ours.
My rating: ★★★★★