“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.”
Somehow it wasn’t until 2018 that I finally read my first book by Anna-Marie McLemore – Blanca & Roja. It has long been one of my great regrets that I hadn’t had a chance to go back and read their previous books. Until this past winter. Finally, a break in my review schedule opened up and I found myself with several weeks of open space in my reading queue. Of course I immediately lined up The Weight of Feathers, Wild Beauty, and, of course, When the Moon Was Ours. I’m sorry it took so long, but I’m so glad I finally read them.
When the Moon Was Our makes a nice pair for McLemore’s latest novel, Dark and Deepest Red. Both revolve around two teens sorting out their racial and gender identities as they uncover their romantic and sexual feelings for each other. Where Dark and Deepest Red is harder and more insistent about its point, When the Moon Was Ours is softer and more exploratory. Sam and Miel and Emil and Rosella all are bound up in the lies their ancestors told and the myths their families have built up. But where Emil and Rosella realize early on that the truth must be set free, Sam and Miel resist it at all costs, almost until it’s too late.
We all ask ourselves “who am I?,” but for teenagers the very act of asking that question is a Herculean task. For them, there may not be an answer yet, or at least not one they’re ready to hear or able to comprehend. It took me until my late 20s to ask myself that question and into my 30s before I had an answer. But here, in this novel, that question imposes itself on not just Sam and Miel but their parental figures Aracely and Yasmin and the antagonists of the piece the Bonner girls. Not everyone likes the answer they find, and some learn ways to ask the question again and get a new answer. But the point is to ask, to want to know who you are. We stagnate otherwise. We cannot move forward without knowing who we are, something Sam, Miel, and the Bonner girls learn first hand.
I can already see the myriad ways teachers might use When the Moon Was Ours in class and librarians in reading recommendations and book lists. It’s gorgeously written and heartbreakingly evocative, with a compelling story and even more compelling characters – I mean of course it is, it’s written by Anna-Marie McLemore. They are an auto-read author for me, and for good reason. Who knows what masterpiece they’ll come up with for 2021, but I’m already eagerly awaiting it.