My rating: 5/5 stars
Premise – (5/5) I’d seen a lot of buzz surrounding this book and was really excited to get my hands on it. The premise is full of the same mysterious magical realism vibe that the rest of the book has, from painted moons to roses growing out of wrists to witches. Secrets, self discovery and magic – I was so ready to dive in!
Characters – (5/5) The characters of When the Moon Was Ours are so compelling. Miel and Sam’s confusing but beautiful relationship highlights their individual strengths, flaws, and the complex corners of their identities. The Bonner sisters were fascinating antagonists. I would’ve actually loved to know a bit more about them, but I think their mysterity is an essential part of their character. I also loved Sam and Miel’s relationships with their respective guardians. Those relationships, Sam and his mother and Miel and Aracely, were not always easy to navigate, and certainly not free from conflict. But they were realistic, honest, and raw. Also, this is an #ownvoices book with a Latina-coded protagonist (I don’t remember if that is stated explicitly, but Miel’s story is rooted in the Latin American legend of La Llorona), and features two transgender characters! I loved the depth of the main characters, and the complicated relationships and motivations of said characters.
Plot – (4/5) The driving plot force is the Bonner sisters’ desire for Miel’s roses, and Miel’s subsequent struggle to keep them while protecting those around her from the Bonners’ blackmail. The plot was definitely the weakest part of the book, but also, in my opinion, the least important. There were some details missing from the eventual explanation, and I thought the resolution was a bit weak. But honestly, the plot wasn’t the most important part of the book, and there wasn’t anything glaringly nonsensical about it, so I didn’t mind much.
World – (5/5) The world for this book is closely tied to the writing for me, but I’ll try to separate them a bit. The setting for When the Moon Was Ours is a nameless small town somewhere in the vicinity of the American southwest, or possibly somewhere south of the border. It’s never exactly clear because the town is also distinctly removed from our real world. It was just the right balance of beautiful, real, absurd and accurate.
Writing – (5/5) Wow, did I love McLemore’s writing. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. At the same time, she handles some really tough subjects with a lot of honesty, and that can be really beautiful. But the world she has created with her lyrical writing is also absolutely gorgeous. Miel’s roses, Sam’s moons, the town’s pumpkins, it’s all filled with an indescribable sense of wonder. The magical realism of this book is excellently done. As soon as I finished I added pretty much all of McLemore’s other books to my to-read list because I wanted more of her incredible writing.
Overall – (4.8/5) When the Moon Was Ours is a must-read. It’s such an important story for its frank discussions about gender, family, growing up and self identity. Those can be hard discussions, and McLemore’s book reflects that. But it also presents the beauty of those things. The mysterious, mystical world she has created is populated with equally magical characters, who are fully fleshed-out. When the Moon Was Ours is poignant, honest, and beautiful. I will definitely be looking for more of McLemore’s writing.
Trigger Warnings: transphobia/misgendering, abuse, suicidal ideation