Title: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publication Date: October 4th 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Magical Realism, LGBT, Romance
Content Warning: Misgendering, Transphobia
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.
“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 a boy woven into the folklore of this place.”
I avoid books that I know are going to make me feel way too many things and cry. Time and time again, I put off books I know I’m going to love because of this. Way back in February I started When the Moon Was Ours. I quickly knew it was going to wreck me. Naturally, I decided to stop reading it and come back to it later. Here I am now, in April, a crying mess having finished and loved it.
I am in awe of what Anna-Marie McLemore was able to accomplish. I cannot truly express enough how much I loved When the Moon Was Ours as it means so much to me.
When the Moon Was Ours follows Sam, a Pakistani trans boy, and Miel, a Latina girl, whose wrists grow roses. Sam and Miel are inseparable best friends, but Miel is holding onto secrets from her past, and Sam is lying to himself about who he really his. Once Chloe, the eldest Bonner girl, comes back to town, the Bonner sisters set their sights on Miel’s roses, bringing Miel and Sam’s personal struggles, and their feelings for each other, to the forefront.
Sam and Miel have become my favorite Young Adult couple. I love these kids with all my heart. They came straight out of a fairy tale with the circumstances under which they met and how they grow close. I wish I could read hundreds of pages about their daily lives. I’m not that big on Friends to Lovers, but when I do like it, Sam and Miel are the exact formula I’m looking for.
Stories about characters who become in universe legends or folklore are my favorite. That was a big aspect of When the Moon Was Ours. Throughout, there are mentions of what people would call Sam and Miel down the line when telling their story. I loved that. There’s even a direct reference to them becoming a fairy tale.
Besides my obvious love for Sam and Miel, I was also enthralled by the familial relationships in When the Moon Was Ours. Complex relationships between families is one of my favorite themes. Exploring it is the number one way to my heart, and McLemore does that. Miel’s relationship with her family was fascinating. As the story progressed, what led to Miel being in the water tower is revealed piece by piece. I loved the reasons why things happened the way they did and why her family member’s acted the way they did. Sam’s relationship with his mother was another highlight. And, of course, the relationship between the Bonner sisters. I did not think I would care a lick about them, but McLemore made me care about their story resolution by the end.
The cultures that Sam and Miel come from play a vital role in their stories. The Magical Realism genre itself is deeply rooted in Lantix culture. It was so cool to see how that influenced the story, and how Miel’s heritage impacted how she saw the world around her. Inheritance played a large role in her story. On Sam’s side there were the fairy tales that were passed down through his family, and the practice of bacha posh.
The writing was superb. I don’t like purple prose. It’s very difficult for books with purple prose to keep me engaged. The style makes it hard for me to focus, and the word choices get me distracted from what is actually happening so I have to put in a lot more effort into reading these types of books. I had to restart When the Moon Was Ours because I was a little lost at the beginning. After I sat down and got engaged, I loved McLemore’s writing style. Her words were magic.
If you like books, read this one. If you like friends to lovers, read this book. If you’re looking to diversify your Young Adult shelf then you absolutely have to read this book.
“As far as he knew, she had come from the water. But even about that, he couldn’t be sure.”
“She wanted you to have the life you wanted,” Aracely said. “So figure out what kind of life you want.”
“We don’t get to become who we are for nothing. It costs something. You’re fighting every little piece of yourself. And maybe I got all of me all at once but I lost everything else. Don’t you dare think there’s any water in the world that makes this easy.”
“They had all given up their truths, things they guarded more closely than their secrets. The words they’d spoken were streaming towards the sky with all that stained glass. None of it was any of theirs to tell unless it belonged to them.”