St. Martin’s Press
October 4th, 2016
Disclaimer: An Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of the book was provided by the publisher for an honest review.
Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours asks us to suspend our belief that girls can spill out of water towers and grow roses out of their wrists. She does so in gorgeous prose that paints a vivid picture of this world she’s created and the characters that live within it.
I call this intersectional beauty because of identities inhabited in these fictional people, which allow for an organic exploration of race, gender and sexuality. Samir, who mostly goes by Sam, is a Pakistani trans boy who paints moons. As a small child, he befriends a girl who falls out of a water tower: Miel. Miel is Latina girl with a rose growing out of her wrist, who has a fear of water and pumpkins. These friends, later turned love interests, have their own deep truths to explore which gets played out in the book.
Minor Spoilers Below
Samir goes by Sam in an attempt to blend in and be less of a racialized other. He also convinces himself that the life he’s leading as Samir is temporary. He believes he’s following bacha posh, which is mostly practiced in Afghanistan and Pakistan; that is a family without a son will choose a daughter to live as a boy. So there’s this underlining understanding for Sam that he’ll go back to living as Samira but he struggles with the thought, because he doesn’t want to go back to Samira. It was interesting to watch him battling ideas of who he was and it was done so well.
Miel’s problems are mostly due to the gaps in her memory of her life before spilling out of that water tower and how the reveal of what actually happened affects her guilt and fears. For Miel, it’s all about learning when to stop retreating—running away—and when to ground herself in spite of fear.
I enjoyed reading this book and the skillful way it tackled so many issues so effortlessly. My only critique would be how the prose gets lost in its own description. A lot of very specific descriptions can ground a story for a reader but I find that too much can cause a reader to lose their grasp in the concrete and tangible threads in a story. I’d ease up on it just smidge.
Lastly, I must mention the author’s note because it’s the loveliest author’s note I’ve read. McLemore tells us that the story is inspired by her and her husband. It’s sweet and as beautiful as the rest of the book. I highly recommend reading it.