Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore


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.

Anna-Marie Mclemore’s books are vulnerable, hauntingly beautiful patchwork quilt of thoughts and emotions that leave your heart held tight and wishing you could transcend into their level of beauty and tenderness and be rid of all your feelings except for your love for them.

When The Moon Was Ours was no exception.

So what’s this book about?

When The Moon Was Ours sweeps you into a treacherous and romantic world that takes center stage in this story of Miel, a petaled girl spilled out from a water tower who grew roses out of her wrist and Samir, who painted a hundred bright moons and hung them anywhere he could get away with. Miel and Sam housed entire armies of information about each other – Miel knew how Sam would never feel like himself inside the name he was given at birth and how he wanted nothing more than to be a boy who grew into a man, and Sam knew how much the roses woven into her veins weighted on Miel and the truth about her guardian, Aracely, who pulled lovesickness from weary hearts.

But there were many secrets neither of them was ready to give up just yet – secrets the gorgeous haughty Bonner sisters, who’ve always seemed less like siblings and more like a force, gathered enough of to compel Miel into obediance, because they believed that the roses coming through her skin had the strength the rumors said: the power to earn them the love of any boy and any heart they failed in winning.

Anna-Marie Mclemore’s writing sings—each sentence, each paragraph marvelously wrought, and the plush, sensuous prose unspools the story with delicious languor. Add in the author’s ability to always breathe into existence fully-realized characters that you’ll want to live with long after you turn the last page and you’ve got a story very few writers could conjure in their wildest imaginings and only McLemore could make into something so wondrously, palpably real.

Miel and Samir’s story is an elegantly crafted paean to the cleansing power of living your truth and the indiscriminate power of love. A story that will carry a dizzying sense of familiarity for a lot of us—made palpable in Sam and his complicated longing to settle an argument that waged deep inside himself, Sam who’s always exuded an aura of calm yet his insides resemble quicksand, Sam who wanted to carve a space for him in the world but felt like the world was a heavy backpack and he was carrying it through space, Sam who was caught in the thorn bush of who he was and was so sure that settling into his truth would be painful that he doubted any path that didn’t come with agony.

“It was his. All of it was his. His body, refusing to match his life. His heart, bitter and worn. His love for Miel, even if it had nowhere to go, even if he didn’t know how to love a girl who kept herself as distant from him as an unnamed constellation.”

Miel who never gave herself enough credit for overcoming things and getting better or celebrated her strength, Miel who’s convinced herself that loving her isn’t easy because of her sharp edges and missing parts, whose problem was never the lack of love but the inability to understand why anyone in their right mind would want to love her.

Miel and Sam who have always known the tide and undertow of each other’s feelings, their hurts, both small and large, both voiced and unvoiced, for most of their lives, yet being the object of so much tenderness and devotion loomed like a scary specter because they didn’t think they deserved it. But they do. They do. And seeing them eventually embrace it with open arms and let it all wash over them was so beautiful. I honestly love both of them so much – they’re so radiant that they probably give goosebumps to the earth’s surface with every light angelic step they take.

“When they both realized they were heartbroken enough to want the love torn from their rib cages, they touched each other with their hands and their mouths, and they forgot they wanted to be cured.” 

Lastly, no review of McLemore’s books would be complete without discussing diversity and representation. This is a beautiful love story between a Latina girl and an Italian-Pakistani trans boy woven with an authenticity that stems from the author’s own first-love-turned-marriage with a trans man. And here the author not only infuses her Latinx culture into every nook and cranny of this book (such as including the legend of La Llorona – The Weeping Woman) but she also delves deep into the Pakistani tradition of Bacha Posh a fascinating practice where fathers and mothers dress their daughters as boys until they grow up to be women. This isn’t surface-level diversity. It’s not just the inclusion of Spanish words and Afghani customs. It’s a way of interpreting the world, of making choices, of navigating life. So not only does it make for a culturally vibrant story, but an eye-opening and educational experience as well.

This isn’t surface-level, checking-off-items-on-a-list diversity. It’s not just the inclusion of Spanish words and Afghani customs. It’s a way of interpreting the world, of making choices, of navigating life. So not only does it make for a culturally vibrant story, but an eye-opening and educational experience as well.

Highly recommended!

8 thoughts on “Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

  1. This is one of my all-time favorite books, so I’m really happy to see that you loved it! Both Miel and Sam were such cinnamon roll characters; I adored them both and their romance is the sweetest. Also, WOW, your descriptions of Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing are just SPOT-ON. I wanna go swimming through her prose. Her books really do read like modern fairytales. This was an absolutely wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you so much!! honestly her books are so unique and so achingly beautiful I could reread them forever


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