The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us! Today, in honor of Anna-Marie McLemore’s Guest of Honor week here at Sirens, we welcome a review from B R Sanders on Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon was Ours.
When Miel was five, she poured out of the water of the town’s felled water tower. Sam was the first person to talk to her, and the two of them have been inseparable ever since. Miel, her hem perpetually damp with water from nowhere, grows inexplicable roses from her wrist and lives with Aracely, who cures the town’s citizens of lovesickness. Meanwhile, Sam works the Bonners’ pumpkin patch and wrestles with his gender day in and day out. When the Bonners’ pumpkins start turning into glass, and the Bonner sisters turn their sights on Miel’s roses, Miel and Sam are faced with hard choices and harder truths.
If the description above doesn’t get you interested in reading When the Moon was Ours, then maybe this will: I love this book, and I really think you should read it. It is exactly, precisely, the kind of book I wish I could hand to a younger version of myself. It has not one, but two of the most sensitive and nuanced portrayals of trans people that I’ve read in a long, long time. I took this book slow; I luxuriated in it like you do a hot bath. I didn’t want it to end. As an AFAB (assigned female at birth) non-binary person, the depiction of Sam, especially, read so true that sometimes it made me tender and raw.
At the heart of the book is a rich depiction of small-town America, but that small town is diverse. There are people of color in that small town. There are people with disabilities in that small town. There are queer people in that small town. And there are transgender people in that small town. Just like in the small town where I grew up, where, yes, people were queer even though it was in Texas. My town was a mix of brown and black and white and Asian. It was poor, and with that came a bevy of people living with disabilities. McLemore weaves a story about surviving and eventually thriving in a small town that felt real and true and authentic.
McLemore is a gifted writer. Virtually every character is full of life. The town itself is a character, something living and breathing, a place at once constraining and comforting. This is an essentially character-driven book: one thread of the story hinges on Miel’s need to uncover her past and how it informs her future. Another thread is the Sam’s acceptance of his own gender identity. McLemore writes both characters’ arcs beautifully.
All books have a weakness. When the Moon was Ours suffers from an overstuffed and meandering plot. At times, the plot feels absolutely crucial to Miel and Sam’s self-discoveries, but at other times, the plot feels divorced and separate from them. McLemore is bursting with ideas here, and the world she builds is alive with texture, but there is, perhaps, too much texture. It is entirely possible that she could have had one book of just Sam, Miel, and Aracely coming to grips with each other, and entirely separate (and incredibly creepy) book of the Bonner sisters and their weird coffin and glass pumpkins. There are so many good ideas and flourishes here that some get crowded out. Some are not given the space to breathe and develop. This is a book that either needed to be bigger and longer and even more intricate, or sharper and smaller and more precise. But When the Moon was Ours, as it exists, is still extraordinary and well worth a read.
If you’re in the mood for a rambling witchy story of two teenagers shambling towards themselves and love and happiness, you should definitely check out When the Moon was Ours! This is a sweet and tender book I read months ago, and still think about nearly every day since I finished it.
B R Sanders is an award-winning genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B writes fantasy novels about queer elves and short fiction about dancing planets. They have attended Sirens in 2015, 2016, and 2017 (and hope to attend again in 2019). They love drinking coffee and sleeping. B tweets @b_r_sanders.