Title: When The Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna Marie McLemore
Review Format: eARC
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Rating: 4.5 Stars
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.
As far as he knew, she had come from the water. But even
about that, he couldn’t be sure.
It didn’t matter how many nights they’d met on the untilled land
between their houses; the last farm didn’t rotate its crops, and
stripped the soil until nothing but wild grasses would grow. It didn’t
matter how many stories he and Miel had told each other when
they could not sleep, him passing on his mother’s fables of moon
bears that aided lost travelers, Miel making up tales about his moon
lamps falling in love with stars. Sam didn’t know any more than
anyone else about where she’d come from before he found her in
the brush fi eld. She seemed to have been made of water one minute
and the next, became a girl.
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
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2 Anna-Marie McLemore
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.
This is the story that mothers would tell their children:
There was once a very old water tower. Rust had turned its metal
such a deep orange that the whole tank looked like a pumpkin, an
enormous copy of the fruit that grew in the fi elds where it cast its
shadow. No one tended this water tower anymore, not since a few
strikes from a summer of lightning storms left it leaning to one side
as though it were tired and slouching. Years ago, they had fi lled it
from the river, but now rust and minerals choked the pipes. When
they opened the valve at the base of the tower, nothing more than a
few drops trickled out. The bolts and sheeting looked weak enough
that one autumn windstorm might crumble the whole thing.
So the town deci ded that they would build a new water tower,
and that the old one would come down. But the only way to drain it
would be to tip it over like a cup. They would have to be ready for
the whole tower to crash to the ground, all that rusted metal, those
thousands of gallons of dirty, rushing water spilling out over the land.
For the fall, they chose the side of the tower where a fi eld of brush
was so dry, a single spark would catch and light it all. All that water,
they thought, might bring a little green. From that fi eld, they dug
up wild fl owers, chicory and Indian paintbrush and larkspur, replant-
ing them alongside the road, so they would not be drowned or
smashed. They feared that if they were not kind to the beautiful
things that grew wild, their own farms would wither and die.
Children ran through the brush fi elds, chasing away squirrels
and young deer so that when the water tower came down, they
would not be crushed. Among these children was a boy called
Moon because he was always painting lunar seas and shadows onto
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When the Moon Was Ours 3
glass and paper and anything he could make glow. Moon knew to
keep his steps and his voice gentle, so he would not startle the rab-
bits, but would stir them to bound back toward their burrows.
When the animals and the wild fl owers were gone from the brush
fi eld, the men of the town took their axes and hammers and mallets
to the base of the water tower, until it fell like a tree. It arced toward
the ground, its fall slow, as though it were leaning forward to touch
its own shadow. When it hit, the rusted top broke off, and all that
water rushed out.
For a minute the water, brown as a forgotten cup of tea, hid the
brush that looked like pale wheat stubble. But when it slid and spread
out over the fi eld, fl attening the brittle stalks, soaking into the dry
ground, every one watching made out the shape of a small body.
A girl huddled in the wet brush, her hair stuck to her face, her
eyes wide and round as amber marbles. She had on a thin nightgown,
which must have once been white, now stained cream by the water.
But she covered herself with her arms, cowering like she was naked
and looking at every one like they were all baring their teeth.
At fi rst a few of the mothers shrieked, wondering whose child had
been left in the water tower’s path. But then they realized that they
did not know this girl. She was not their daughter, or the daughter
of any of the mothers in town.
No one would come near her. The ring of those who had come
to see the tower taken down widened a little more the longer they
watched her. Each minute they put a little more space between
her and them, more afraid of this small girl than of so much falling
water and rusted metal. And she stared at them, seeming to meet all
their eyes at once, her look both vicious and frightened.
But the boy called Moon came forward and knelt in front of her.
He took off his jacket and put it on her. Talked to her in a voice soft
enough that no one else could hear it.
"No one is exactly sure what to make of the beautiful raven haired girl, whose skirt hems are always oddly damp. The girl that folk claim to have seen simply spill from the town water tower when she was five. The girl who grows roses from her wrist.
But then again, the same can be said about that boy that she's always with. The quiet one, with the olive skin. Always making those moons for the kids, putting then in the trees at night."
When The Moon Was Ours is that rare breed of book. A book possessed of ethereal prose, a compelling and heartfelt story, and characters who, once read can never be forgotten.
Though the story of Miel and Sam is a relatively brief one, all things considered. The emotional depth and seamless progression of their relationship is both fully realized and beautifully expressed.
It is through this shared interaction that readers are allowed to fully understand both characters as individuals, and collectively.
Author Anna Marie McLemore addresses issues such as gender identity, love, romance, and societal mores, in a way that while conveying a very positive spin, proves very accessible to both its intended YA, and adult audiences from a fictional stand point as well.
The only detractors from this wonderful work can be found in its pacing. Which can at times become almost painfully slow, and the lack of detail given to Ms. McLemore's magical world. The later point being of greater significance, due to the pivotal role of magical realism within the framework of the tale.
It is this reviewer's sincerest hope that this book is one that is continuously shared, discussed, and enjoyed. As much for its message for the story itself.