If you’re asking book bloggers to recommend you gorgeously written books, there’s a very good chance Anna-Marie McLemore’s books will be among the first recs. Having only read one of her many anthology contributions before now, I agree with that wholeheartedly. She’s got a way with words! When the Moon Was Ours is so far her most acclaimed work (Stonewall Book Award nominee/honoree!) for obvious reasons, but it still left me wanting somehow?
I could sum up my delight by screaming “Whooooo, trans rep with TWO trans people!” and “Queer, Pakistani, AND Latinx rep!” for a while, but there’s more to the book than that. McLemore spins Sam and Miel’s story with words so lovely that their ripcurrent sweeps you away for a while. It’s novel that fully embraces magical realism’s roots in Latinx culture and delivers the strangest, loveliest little story about a girl with roses growing from her wrist, the water that kept her safe from the rest of the world until an old water tower came down, and four girls–las gringas bonitas, the Bonner sisters–who think Miel’s roses can make them powerful again.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
The lush writing style also has a way of making you think “wait, what happened?” once you escape from its clutches because it set you adrift from the actual events being written about. Such writing is excellent in short-form works like fairy tales and smaller stories, but it’s easy for the style to make you lose sight of the substance. Recalling the events of a scene you just read shouldn’t be as difficult as this!
That alienation also left me feeling like I knew stuff about Sam and Miel, but I didn’t actually know Sam and Miel as individuals and characters. Sam paints moons for Miel and has been a bacha posh since he was young, but the expectation he’ll soon discard his boy’s clothes to become a woman again is all wrong for him; Miel fears pumpkins, the roses that grow from her wrist, and the Bonner girls. That’s just a list of facts about them. In comparison, it’s easy to detail each Bonner sister’s individual personality and what part that plays in the uncertain sisterhood they’ve returned to now that eldest sister Chloe is back from having her baby. Readers simply get to know them better than we get to know our primary narrators Sam and Miel.
Though it’s not easy to stick with, When the Moon Was Ours is an undeniably well-written story akin to a modern fairy tale. My copy of McLemore’s Wild Beauty certainly is certainly staying on my shelves instead of going in the donation pile!