When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
“This was what they had created, a place where she was more than the girl the water tower had spilled out, and he was more than a boy painting a hundred moons, a boy who knew mare nectaris and sinus roris, the seas of nectar and the bay of dew.”
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for providing an ebook copy in exchange for an honest review.
When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful, surreal novel that effortlessly weaves magical elements within the monotonies of everyday life, love and heartbreak. Anna-Marie McLemore has created a fascinating world that I was totally absorbed in and could not put down.
The novel follows best friends Miel and Sam, inseparable since the day Miel fell out of the water tower when she was five. The two are considered strange by their fellow neighbours as roses grow out of Miel’s wrists while nobody knows anything about the life Sam had before he and his mother came to town. He spends his days painting moons and hanging them in the trees for the town’s children, and Miel assists her guardian Aracely in performing spells and curing the townsfolk of their lovesickness. As odd as Miel and Sam are, they are nothing compared to the Bonner girls, four red-haired sisters rumoured to be witches. The Bonner sisters have almost all of the men in the town half in love with them, but their lure is fading and they want Miel’s roses, convinced the flowers wield a power to force love on another. They will do anything to regain their peculiar influence over others, including blackmailing Miel with stories of her past that she wants to forget and threatening to reveal the life-changing secret Sam has tried so hard to protect.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first starting reading this novel. I had a difficult time placing the genre of the story as the book contains both fantasy and magical elements set in present-time reality. I have to admit it took a while to assimilate to this as McLemore never explains the magical elements; it is just a part of the world around the characters and something they accept and live with. Once I wrapped my head around that, the novel completely pulled me in and I wasn’t aware of anything aside from the words on the page. The prose was exquisite and I continually reread certain paragraphs because the sentences and wording were just so beautiful. Her writing is so lyrical and poetic; I have already borrowed another of her novels from my local library, that’s how much I loved her writing.
“All these broken pieces, becoming a hundred thousand unmapped stars.”
Miel and Sam were wonderful protagonists and their relationship really drove the plot forward. I caught myself flicking forward a few chapters so I could see if they were together, and had to force myself to stop as I didn’t want to accidentally read any spoilers. Their backstories were both so intriguing: Miel is haunted by her past and what happened to her before she fell out of the water tower, and Sam is terrified that the town will discover that he is transgendered. I have never read a fantasy novel with a transgendered character before and I am so excited this was my first. McLemore deals with the topical issues surrounding gender dysphoria that we so often hear about in the media and she does this in a considerate and sensitive manner. Sam has trouble deciding how he wants to define himself and the novel continually makes reference to the fact that it is not anyone’s business besides his. Coming out as LGBT, whether in a small town or large city, is daunting for anyone and When the Moon Was Ours does a fantastic job of explaining LGBT issues and re-educating small-minded ignorant people. The message that I took away from this book is that you should accept and love who you are inside, no matter what the outside may look like.
I had a love-hate relationship with the Bonner sisters. There were times I wanted to hug them and other times I wanted to yell at them. I really enjoyed Peyton’s character, but her inability to stand up against her sister angered me, especially as Peyton understood that what she and her sisters were doing was wrong. I felt pity for both Chloe and Lian, as the entire town gossips about them behind their backs. As for Ivy, I disliked her from beginning to end. I don’t care about her motives, her attempts to blackmail Miel and Sam had me seething.
My heart was ripped into a million pieces then put back together, over and over again as I read this book. What made me love it even more was reading the Author’s Note at the end of the novel, which was so incredibly touching. When the Moon Was Ours is a book everyone needs to read.