In a place that feels real and modern but also timeless and universal, there’s a water tower that’s about to fall down, so the townspeople decide to knock it down in such a way that the rusty water flowing out of the broken water tower will do the most good for the plants. To everybody’s surprise, what emerges with the water is a child, a young girl, terrified and screaming that she lost the moon. Only a young boy, Sam, is able to approach the girl (whose name is Miel) and calm her down. This begins the deep and abiding friendship between Sam and Miel, and this begins the absolutely beautiful book, When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore. That this book happens to fall in the category of “Read a YA or Middle Grade Book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+” is, for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, just icing on the cake.*
Miel is special: aside from her remarkable, even miraculous first appearance in the town, she grows roses from her wrist. This is never explained, just a given, though there are all kinds of legends and stories about people who have that power, and about what those roses can do for the right person.
Sam is also special: he creates beautiful moons and hangs them throughout the town and surrounding area to reassure Miel that she hasn’t actually lost the moon. He is the only child of a woman from Pakistan, and he works in the pumpkin fields owned by the Bonner family, where his family’s background in collecting saffron from crocus flowers comes in useful.
As Miel and Sam become friends and more than friends, they run afoul of the Bonner sisters, four beautiful redheaded young women who have never been refused successfully by anyone for anything they wanted. They have picked up all the boys they ever wanted and dumped them, breaking their hearts in the process, relishing their power over the town, even if some people in town call them witches. Now, however, something has changed. The sisters are losing their power over the town, and they have decided that Miel’s roses will restore it. They don’t care whether Miel wants to give them the roses that grow through her skin; they intend to get them, at whatever cost to Miel or anyone she loves.
Everybody in the book has secrets they keep from those they love and those they don’t love, and in the end, those secrets are revealed and save the people who have been holding them.
The book is gorgeously written, the magic amazing and believable, the characters rich and full of depth. I want to thank Christi O’Donnell for turning me on to this wonderful book, and now I’m paying it forward by recommending the book to everyone who loves good writing and page-turning books.
*This book also counts as a fantasy novel, so it’s a two-fer for those of us doing the Challenge!