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 rumours 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 rumoured 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.
Oh man, this book was just stunning. Even from listening the very first chapter on audio, I knew this was going to be at least a four star book. Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing is just the right kind of flowery without being too purple prose-y, and Lord she had me tearing up several times just with her descriptions.
I cannot emphasise how much I enjoyed the writing style in this book, and how much it enhanced my reading experience. The world of Miel and Sam is so very vivid in my mind, which doesn’t happen often for me, as I find it difficult to retain images of characters or settings in my head a lot of the time – especially with audiobooks. But with When The Moon Was Ours, I even dreamt about the path between Sam and Miel’s house, lit by his painted moons. Even writing this review, I’m pausing and closing my eyes, and I can physically feel the magic from this book.
However, it is not the writing alone that made me fall totally in love with this book, but the characters too. I am very hit-or-miss with romances and often feel that stories could do without romantic subplots (something I often don’t put in reviews because that’s entirely subjective) but Sam and Miel are my new ultimate couple. I really believed their love. Again through the beautiful writing, I could feel the connection the two had, and it was both painful and brilliant to read.
I think perhaps why I believed their relationship so much was because they were their own characters outside of it. Though they are very much central to each other’s characters and are enormous parts of each other’s lives, they have their own struggles and conflicts. Though I cannot speak for the trans representation of Sam, I found his story simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful. His reactions to the events of the book are so real to me, and I could understand every decision he made and emotion he felt as a result. He’s honestly one of the sweetest, most deeply explored character I’ve read about in a long time.
And Miel… oh Miel. I adore you, my girl. Miel is the kind of character I definitely gravitate towards. She is haunted by trauma, and wracked with the frustration that comes from not knowing her past, yet finds happiness and beauty in the world. There’s a scene in the book which references the previous summer, in which Sam sticks stars on Miel’s skin before they go out into the sun. When he takes them off at the end of the day, she has tanned around the shapes, leaving her back covered in little pale stars. That image stuck with me throughout the rest of the book. Every time I picture Miel, I see that magic and mystery, and beauty.
Honestly, I’m in love with both of them.
I also got the impression from the book that no matter how much I as a reader got to know Miel and Sam, I will never understand them as much as they understand each other, despite being in both their heads. Miel and Sam have the water tower and the roses and the pumpkins and the moons, and I found that a glimpse into that was just enough for me.
I’m gonna tear myself away from these characters before I just start gushing about how much I adore them, and try to remember this is a review and not me ranting to a friend.
Okay, pacing. This is a slow-paced book. But a purposely slow-paced one, I think. It’s very character focused (yey!) and as such, you spend a lot of time in these character’s heads rather than exploring too many twists and turns in the plot. I personally love that in books and so lapped it up, but if you prefer more action, this book may not be for you. All I can say is that I laid out in the garden and listened to three hours of this audiobook in one chunk with my eyes closed because I was so enraptured with it.
When The Moon Was Ours also gave me a sort of nostalgic feeling too? I suppose it could be because of the fairy-tale elements such as the pumpkins and moons, but I doubt I read any books about roses growing from cuts on a girl’s wrist, or being trapped in a coffin when I was little. Without being too corny, I honestly think this book reminded me of being a child, because it brought back the feeling of belief in magic. I was listening, and at parts, just felt like a small child again. I appreciate any book that can do that for me.
I’m at a little bit of a loss as to how to wrap this up because honestly, I don’t want to. I want to talk about this book forever.
I assume if you’ve read this far, you know now whether I would recommend this book. I often think of which books I would add onto my class shelf if I was a teacher in secondary/high school. This would have pride of place. Not just because of the gorgeous writing, the romance that blew my mind, or the magic that brought me back to my childhood, but because this story is headed by a Latina girl and a trans Pakistani boy and that’s something I almost never see in YA.
Anna-Marie McLemore is instantly one of my favourite authors and I can’t wait to read and review her other books.
PS: One thing I will add is a possible trigger warning for self-harm in this book. Some of the descriptions of the roses growing from Miel’s wrists were sometimes a little hard for me to listen to, so just bear that in mind and be prepared if that affects you!
Have you read When The Moon Was Ours? If so, please please comment! I’d love nothing more than to be able to talk to someone about this gem of a book!
Until the next one,