Book: WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
TWs: Abuse, attempted suicide, deadnaming (challenged in text), misgendering (challenged in text).
Rep: Latina (ownvoice), Pakistani-American, trans, Queer (not sure if Peyton was lesbian, bi, or pan).
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.
I was not properly prepared for this book.
Which was probably my fault. I went in only knowing that there was a trans love interest and a girl with roses and that was pretty much it. I’ve seen a fair amount of gushing reviews about how beautiful this book is but I still wasn’t prepared for just how right this book feels.
This is the perfect Autumn book if you’re more into magic than spooky. The story involves a strange cast of characters. Miel, the girl who is afraid of pumpkins and water and grows roses out of her wrist. Samir, a boy who just wants to call his body what he wants. The Bonner sisters, a near sinister group of girls who have their own set of secrets. Aracely, a woman shaped by the river. The setting of this book flits between a violet house, a pumpkin patch full of increasingly glass pumpkins, and the woods that house a stained glass coffin. This book is a sensory experience and more character driven than plot oriented, but McLemore makes it work. No, she more than makes it work- she leaves you desperately wanting more.
While this book pretends to be an almost fairytale, this is really about two best friends falling in love but learning to accept themselves on their own. It takes Sam owning his own body and name to allow him to let Miel in and Miel has to start moving forward from her traumatic childhood in order to stand up for herself against the Bonner sisters. I did love how in the end, it wasn’t Miel protecting Sam as much as it was Sam protecting himself which is very important.
The magic in the story is so effortless. People believe in magic, people use magic, and it’s just something that is there and accepted. I really appreciated how organically it flowed throughout the story.
There was a lot of commentary on how PoC are treated as outsiders, especially through Samir’s mother. The town trusted her with their children but were always quick to make sure she knew that she was an outsider because of where her family came from. McLemore didn’t hold back on this topic, at all. She’s very bold in her assessment that if you are different from the people around you, it’s like walking a tight-rope… one misstep and it’s all over. Parents love Samir because he paints moons that lull that children to sleep but if they knew that he was trans, they would hate him.
Samir. Good LORD, SAMIR. I had never heard of the Pakistani practice of bacha posh and I was sort of weary about how this would play out in the story since it had been lauded as revolutionary trans rep. However, McLemore beautiful touches on this tradition and what it means for Samir… who doesn’t want to go back to being Samira because that’s not who he is. I also loved the relationship he has with his mother and how she is willing to do anything for her son. There was so much GOOD exploration of gender and sexuality and sex, and it was so great to see this characters explore and not be shamed for that exploration.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews state that they didn’t “get this book”. Honestly, if you’re a reader who needs everything to make sense or needs world building, this book probably isn’t for you. There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of “just roll with it” in this book. Why does Miel’s family have a history of rose girls? Why are the Bronner’s parents so apathetic? Are we in modern times? No one knows! This is definitely a book for people who are ok with “suspending disbelief” for the duration of the book.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. To everyone. 100x over.