Title: WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS
Author: Anne-Marie McLemore
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Rating: 4 Stars
Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS is superbly written, with two protagonists who will stay in your mind long after you’ve read the last page. Miel and Sam leap off the page. The lush prose is some of the most imaginative phrasing that brings the whole world and story to life.
I wanted to love this book so much. It’s a lovely little tale of a transgender boy and his magical Latina girlfriend as they fight to protect each other from four wicked girls.
But… I just can’t. For starters, I hate purple prose and this book is packed with it. People who want to read a charming story with magical realism and romance with tons of purple prose, this is the book for you!
Still, I found myself in the last act just begging the author to get to the point. I want action and scenes that flow from moment to moment. Purple prose takes me out of the story with detours that are beautifully written but not what I’m here for.
In addition, WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS definitely feels like it’s in a world all it’s own, but little details of that writing bothered me. It feels like there is a lot of telling instead of showing. For example, the author repeatedly tells us the Miel and Sam have come to be known as Honey and Moon, respectively, by the town. These are their well-established nicknames and this is brought up several times. However, I think that Sam is referred to as Moon in a single line of dialogue, and Miel is only called Honey in Sam’s internal narration in one scene. If these were really their nicknames, I would expect them to be called those things throughout the book.
So…it seems more like those names were just charming additions? That jarred me. The characterization for the Bonner girls was similarly jarring. They are painted as one-dimensional, evil villains until the very end, so that finale didn’t feel earned to me.
I have a feeling I mostly noticed/didn’t enjoy these aspects because I don’t like purple prose. If you like lush prose, then these little nitpicks are easy to overlook in the midst of all this gorgeous writing.
Don’t get me wrong: it is gorgeous. McLemore crafts stunning imagery throughout the story, weaving a world laced with magic where girls fall out of water towers, pumpkins turn to glass, and everyone has secrets. It is truly amazing, really, it is. This is a beautiful book.
That’s why I’m still giving it four stars. Aside from some of the issues with characterization, I know that everything I didn’t like is simply a style choice. I’m not going to take away stars because of that. The story is technically sound and a lovely read. It’s just not for me.
So if you’re a fun of push prose and magical realism, pick up WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS today.