Love grows such strange things.
For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.
Wild Beauty is an iridescently beautiful book. It should be covered in rose petals, so it might shed a rose petal everywhere it’s been just so everyone might know it’s been there.
“Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidding places. Love grew such strange things.”
Wild Beauty is an own-voices novel about queer women of color who love their lovers out of existence and grow flowers that never keep to where their hands put them, and soft boys who appear from nothingness to relearn the letters of their names in an alphabet that’s constantly changing. It’s about brown-skinned men who are driven out of their lands by men who duct-taped down six shelves of their sweat and hard-work, and shatterproof legacies that consist of pinning flowers to the earth in an unwitting attempt to conceal the decaying ruins under. It’s about intentions that are rooted in good but that often grow thorns in the end, and love stories that always come with the price of loss.
This is a story that both broke my heart and held it tenderly inside me. As a queer person of color from a country that fell under imperialism and is still affected by it, reading this book felt like a hand reached for and found in the dark. I really can’t put into words how much own-voices stories like these matter for marginalized readers. We finally get to star.
“Her heart was poison. It was a close tangle of thorns. Even when it held love, that love came sharp, and she didn’t know how to offer it to anyone except with the edges out.”
McLemore’s prose is so unique it can’t be replicated. It’s actually strange how much of an impact beautiful writing can have on a person. A string of words stitched together can pluck at your heart like fingers upon the wires of a harp, sink into you like a stone sinking into water, open your eyes, change the landscape of your world. McLemore does that.
But it’s the characters that won over my heart. Starting with The Nomeolvides girls. Every Nomeolvides woman is doomed to a life of shoving people inside their hearts where they stuck out like shards of glass and it would hurt every time they came close to loving them. A Nomeolvides is as likely to fall in love with a woman as with a man but their love will always make them disappear… So what happens when not only one but five Nomeolvides cousins fall in love with the same girl? I honestly love these women and if I could actually get the moon to always shine down on their faces, I would.
“Twice as many paths to trouble, their mothers would whisper. As though their daughters loving men and women meant they wanted all of them in the world. There was no way to tell their mothers the truth and make them believe it, that hearts that loved boys and girls were no more reckless or easily won than any other heart. They loved who they loved. They broke how they broke. And the way it happened depended less on what was under their lovers’ clothes and more on what was wrapped inside their spirits.”
And there’s Fel! When the Nomeolvides cousins feared that they would love Bay (who’s genderqueer, by the way) into disappearance, they offered a sacrifice to the gardens which they’re bound to. So La Pradera brought them a boy, Fel.
Look, I love Pure and Soft characters. The ones who are too good. The ones who give everything to the universe and stay soft at heart even when it’s treating them horribly. The ones who would do something and your immediate thought would be “I would die for you” no matter how small or inconsequential (like cooking for 15 grieving Nomeolvides women without being asked).
“Fel remembered the times he’d tried blinking away the feeling of tears along his eyelashes, saying I’m not crying. Adán always held a kind laugh under his words when he said, Yes, you are. Not an accusation, an assurance that Adán thought no less of him.”
Also, I ship Fel & Estrella so much I want to drown myself whole and entire in theirs hearts for a brief moment of rieful tenderness. And I’m honestly totally down to read an entire book about them just haunting local streets at 3am. What a power couple.