In When the Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore once again casts us under her spell and fills our world with pumpkins and roses.
Miel met Sam the night she magically appeared out of the the town’s fallen water tower. As children, they were inseparable, Honey and Moon, and while Sam hung painted moons all over town to make Miel happy and keep the nightmares of the other children away, Miel became known as the girl who grew roses from her wrist. Every few days I new rose would burst forth, but soon, the town’s it-girls, the Bonner Sisters, believe they need Miel’s roses to keep their powers of enchantment and romance and they will use all of Miel and Sam’s secrets against her to get them.
First off, if you aren’t new to this blog, you know I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s work, so keep that in mind as you read this review.
Now that fall is upon us, When the Moon Was Ours becomes extra atmospheric, evoking all of the hallmarks of fall with bright moons, pumpkins, leaves, and shades of orange. The scenery of this story is lush in detail and magic without becoming overwhelming or too strange. With all of McLemore’s books, you need to be open to magic and strange things happening in the normal world. It’s a hallmark of magical realism I know some have a hard time dealing with. My advice is: magic happens, so don’t question it, just enjoy it.
One of the things I loved about this story is the different ways magic is explored. We have Miel’s caretaker, Aracely, who helps to cure love sickness using traditional means like eggs, herbs, flowers, etc. Then, there’s Sam’s mother who has the uncanny ability to get children to do their lessons and practice their instruments even when they give others a hard time. Sam makes his beautiful moons while Miel grows flowers from her wrist and the four Bonner Sisters ensnare lovers as easily as breathing. Each character has a different magical quality and while some are more overt than others, it’s obvious that each has more going on than meets the eye. This leads to a discussion of who is a considered a bruja. Bruja has a bit of a different connotation than simply saying someone is magical; it’s typically seen as more of an insult or something to be feared. Behind their backs, the Bonner Sisters are referred to as brujas while Miel and Aracely hear it to their faces despite how many people come to Aracely for help with their love lives. The discussion of race is fairly subtle but certainly there.
While this is a story of magic, it is certainly one of identity as well. Miel struggles to remember who she is before she appeared in the water tower while the Bonner Sisters deal with losing their identity after their oldest sister leaves and returns a different person. It is also the story of Sam’s identity. Sam is transgender, but he hasn’t quite come to accept himself and his identity yet, despite identifying as a boy for the majority of his life. Sam fears what it means for him to fully accept that he is a boy/man and not a bacha posh, a Pakistani tradition where a family with no sons dresses a daughter as a boy and treats her as such until she reaches adulthood and returns to being a woman. The arc about coming to terms with a shifting identity was handled incredibly well and McLemore states that the essence of Sam’s character was pulled from her husband’s experiences coming to terms with his identity. The realism behind Sam’s struggles are obvious and well done.
Overall, When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful story about love and identity wrapped in a blanket of moonlight and pumpkins. If you’re looking for a seasonal tale to sink into for fall, I highly recommend it. You can grab a copy here.