When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published in October 2016 by Thomas Dunne.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Thomas Dunne for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA magical realism.

My rating:

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 Anna-Marie’s second novel – I also reviewed her debut, The Weight of Feathers, which I enjoyed a lot. I can say without a doubt that I’ll be reading whatever she writes next because frankly, her writing is beautiful.

When the Moon Was Ours is a book that made me think. It stayed with me for weeks after I’d finished it and it got me to consider questions and topics I’ve never really thought about before, so even if everything else was shit, I’d cherish it for that alone.

Of course, everything else wasn’t shit – I really liked her style. I guess it might be too flowery and full of comparisons for some people, but I mentioned liking Anna-Marie’s writing in my review of The Weight of Feathers already. The fact that she writes magical realism, where the main character, Miel, has roses growing from her wrist, combines perfectly with the unusual metaphors and an almost too-rich language. Her writing is what I imagine synesthesia to be like: a burst of colours, sounds, and flavours.

I loved the characters as well. They were wonderfully diverse and while the outlandish elements of the genre might have made them seem weird (there are four sisters, for example, who basically function as one four-bodied organism – it’s strange), they are surprisingly relatable.

Miel, who lives with her relative Aracely, is an orphan with some bad, repressed memories. She came to live in the town after she was found in the old abandoned water tower (I know, it sounds weird) and her wrist-roses change colour depending on her mood. Super cool.

Sam, the other half of the main couple, is a transgender boy. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with transgender characters before and I really have no way of judging if the representation is accurate – but I think it might be. Very much so, in fact, because the author’s husband is a transgender man and it seems like this topic is incredibly personal to her. The book deals with the topic in this gentle way, but it’s pretty damn eye-opening, too.

All things considered, When the Moon Was Ours is a strong story with important issues and loveable characters. It’s a standalone, which is another plus, and I think it’s well worth reading.


Have you read When the Moon Was Ours? What did you think?

Do you have any magical realism recommendations for me?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I really want to read this! Not only is the cover beautiful, but it sounds amazing too. I haven’t read much magical realism, and I’m dying to read more. I haven’t read her first book either -so maybe I should read that first… Great review, Kaja!

    • Yeah the cover is gorgeous. I liked this one better than her debut (but the debut is also great), it’s just that the theme is more interesting to me. And you don’t have to read that one first, they’re completely separate books.

  • Hmm, I’m intrigued. It sounds lovely!

    • It is lovely. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, not a lot of books do that to me.

  • I love the way you describe the writing style. Definitely one to keep an eye out for.

    • Thank you! :) And you should, this one is really worth a read.

  • I’ve also read shockingly few books featuring trans protagonists — there have been a few secondary characters here and there but no MCs so far. Maybe this one will be the book that changes that! So long as I’m in the mood for it, I quite enjoy writing that’s chock-full of metaphors and other literary elements. Plus the fact that the author’s husband is trans makes me think that you’re probably right: the representation is most likely accurate!

    • I’m sure there are books who feature trans protagonists but they rarely make it into the publishing spotlight. Whether it’s a conscious avoidance of the issue on the part of publishers or just a coincidence, it would be good to see more of them.
      I think you’d like this one!

  • Huh, this sounds like such a cool book. I’m embarrassed to say I’d disregarded it a bit on other blogs but I had to read your review and I think this is one I may have to read. I can put up with flowery language and always enjoy magical realism so I think I’ll probably enjoy this book. You’ve managed to convince me anyway so great review.

    • Oh, nice! I hope you get a chance to read it, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s such a beautiful book.
      And yeah, sometimes I see a book on some blogs and just think EH, PASS, but when a certain blogger gives it a good review, I’m all over it. :)

  • I need this book in my life now! I really loved McLemore’s writing in The Weight of Feathers and I can tell from your review that she continues to impress. I also get the impression that you can feel all the emotions the author drew on from personal experience to write this one. Must get it soon. Thanks for the review!

    • I think you’ll like this one, especially since you liked The Weight of Feathers. That one was more dreamy, I think, with a more… literary plot, being a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but When the Moon Was Ours is really powerful.