Book Reviews

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

One day they would be no more than that fairy tale. They would be two children named Honey and Moon, folded into the stories whispered through this town. (14)

I did not know how much I was missing magical realism, till this book opened my eyes. It is not only a beautiful story between two friends, Sam and Miel, but it is gorgeously written as well. From the glass pumpkins, to the roses growing from her veins, these lyrical elements combine to take you on a walk through a magical forest of discovery.

Her roses were as much the life in her as her heart (242)

Sam and Miel are as equally united by their secrets, as they are by their truths. But united in their outcast status, their friendship is one of trust, acceptance, and loyalty as they navigate their town: full of ignorance, fear, and a desire for power. Both Miel and Sam are already on their way down a challenging path of self-acceptance as they must both be stronger than ever to protect all that is close to them.

I am not your garden…you do not own what I grow (54)

This #ownvoices novel is almost hauntingly beautiful and there are times I want to frame these words, to keep them in my mind. There are so many mysteries in this story that are yet to be revealed or solved. I cannot decide if I love the characters or the plot more.

It grew from the brushing of her rose petals to the sting of how the winds blew on the shortest day of the year. It took root in him, digging itself in harder for having almost been torn out. He felt her, warm and alive as the roots of a yew tree (167)

The plot unfurls like a rose. It is unhurried and splendid: it takes its time to grow. We are graced with its beauty as the plot moves towards its final moments. This is one of the best magical realism novels I have read and its strengths lie not in the degree of magic, but in the portrayal of its elements. The plot harbors the twists and turns, the mysteries and betrayals in an unhurried and elegant way.

He could pull on oceans and rivers. He could drag lakes across deserts. There was enough force in him to turn the river that held her to light. He drew the water out of this place where she was forever slipping from her mother’s hold and drowning in the dark (170)

All of the characters are truly unique, whether it be because of their abilities to pollinate pumpkins or even their tragic flaw of loving too much and always the ones who can never love us back. A unique cast of characters, the diversity is truly fantastic and is so seamlessly a large part of the story, but never overly dominant. Even better than the characters themselves, are the differing relationships they have. There are friends turned into lovers, friends turned into family, and enemies turned into friends. The characters undergo real challenges, and their relationships are truly tested.

He wanted more than he wanted a breath, for the water to take this decision from him (132)

I love every detail from the chapter titles that revolve around bodies of water (if you read the book, hopefully you appreciate that pun), to the vivid descriptions of Miel’s Roses and Sam’s moons, to the relationships the characters have, even with their ‘enemies’. This is a book with younger protagonists. It is a coming of age book, one that examines all these transitions in our life that move us from one stage of becoming to another. It is made up of many acceptance stories in all different shapes and sizes that is both gorgeous and uplifting. However it is also a book about living our own truth and the ending really empathizes that sometimes the hardest truths are not secrets.

Or she might have been small enough to see the moon on the surface, and think she could wade in and catch it (103)

If you like magical realism, diverse characters, and intricate relationships, this is your book. You can buy a copy here, add it to Goodreads, or check out the author’s website here. It is a book that combines the fantastic and the utterly real in a portrait of small town life: one that is populated by individuals with magical abilities, but who still struggle with the same universal problems of growing up and living together.

Let’s Discuss: Magical realism, do you love it or hate it?

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If you like this, you might like my review of the High Mountains of Portugal.

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

  1. True story: I had a bit of insomnia last night, so was scrolling through Tumblr (phone use is a big no-no when I can’t sleep, but I was weak!) and came across an excerpt from When the Moon Was Ours. I was completely blown away by the writing and then I saw you’d reviewed it this morning, feels like kismet. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres. I cannot get enough and at the same time feel like I don’t read enough of it. Do you have a favorite magical realism novel?

    1. Wow, that does feel like a bit of cosmic interference! I love the way McLemore writes, I just read her Weight of Feathers and also loved that. I have to say that When the Moon Was Ours feels a bit like my favorite. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter was pretty good, weird, but good. I also really loved Beloved by Toni Morrison.

  2. I really liked this book, too. I was especially touched by the author’s note at the end of the book about her husband. Suddenly I realized a new truth and it took my breath away. Thanks for the good review.

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