Reader vs Reader: When the Moon was Ours

Welcome to Reader vs. Reader (anyone have any wicked name suggestions???).  Two librarians who have read the same book will discuss it critically.  They may agree, agree on certain points, or completely disagree.  RvR will challenge your reading comfort zone and dig deeply into the text to find potential problems or subtle brilliance.  And maybe both.  

In December, Andrea and Pam both read When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Reader vs Reader: When the Moon was Ours

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.

The Quick Reactions:

thumbs up
Pam: I am a huge fan of magical realism, and I loved all of the allusions to fairy tales in this world that was kind of otherworldly.  I think that we use magic or fantasy as way to work through difficulties in life, and that by telling her story in this way, things that are normally very painful are shown to also be very beautiful. Andrea: This is a totally it’s me not you thing. I discovered I really don’t like magical realism. What Pam loved, drove me insane. However, I can appreciate the allusions, even if I didn’t like it. I also loved the Samir storyline and wish it had focused more on that then all the other things.  So in the end, I’m a light thumbs down.


Snippet of our conversation (Warning: spoilers everywhere!):

Andrea: I think, as a whole, the book moved a bit too slow for my taste.

Pam: I thought it definitely started out slowly, but I couldn’t stop reading as I got into it.  There really isn’t a lot of plot but I don’t think it needs ACTION!  This might be one that’s a genre preference that makes or breaks it for you. It reminded me a little bit of A.S. King’s work–I love it and a lot of people are like hhhh no too weird.  I guess I just really love weird books.

Andrea: I don’t know if it needed action, but at times it seemed to drag? And I felt like we were revisiting the same things over and over at times.

Pam: One thing I didn’t love-love was the Bonner sisters plotline.  I almost felt like it needed something more to make it gel with Miel and Sam’s story.  Not just that they wanted Miel’s roses.

Andrea: Yes! I never quite got the part of the Bonner sisters. It was like…filler.

Pam: I think there were some really interesting points made about privilege (the Bonners are white; Miel and Sam are brown) and always getting what you want but never being happy, but that almost could have been another book.

Andrea: I could agree with that. It was almost like the Bonner sisters were supposed to be villains….but not villains…and they just didn’t quite work for me.

Pam: I’ve been rolling around the issue of Aracely’s magical transformation vs. Sam in my head all day. The way I approached it was kind of like how in fairy tales, you might have your wish granted but it comes at a price.  Like Ariel gets Eric to fall in love with her, but loses her voice.  Aracely becomes, physically, who she always was, but at the price of feeling like she has to lie to Miel all the time.  That’s a huge rift.

Andrea: Nods. And I get the fairy tale aspect, I do, but I think this is the problem with reading this one right after IF I WAS YOUR GIRL, which had a similar scene. I also think, this is where magical realism loses me. I can’t quite wrap my head around a world that is both real and fantasy. It’s just jarring to me.  

However, I think Samir’s story is lovely, I truly do.

Pam: Ughhh Samir.  My heart. And I love that Miel never questions who he is.

Andrea: Yes, I do love that about Miel. I also love that we totally get a period mention!

Pam: Yes to the period thing.  So much yes.

Andrea: And while I do love Samir and Miel/Samir’s story, there also just felt like too much was going on.

Pam: Hmm.  Maybe I just like my books to be chock ful ‘o weird stuff going on???  Like the lovesickness curing and the glass pumpkins…

Andrea: I was okay with the lovesickness?

Pam: I was hoping that could be a real life thing 😀 Because that would be VERY USEFUL

Andrea: Right? So yes, I was okay with lovesickness, but we had the bonner sisters and the weird school scene and Sam thinking she was BFFs with the Bonner sisters and all the childhood flashbacks. Not to mention she was suspended in water?! I don’t know if I’ve wrapped my head around that one yet

Pam: I admit to not fully understanding the water tower thing either. That was kinda confusing.

Andrea: Yeeeah. Like how long was she there? It had to be years right?!

Pam: Yeah.  Long enough for Aracely to live in their town and become part of it, although she was aged by the water too

Andrea: But long enough for Samir & his mom to move and be settled as well And they only moved to town because of Aracely. And I will say this is where magical realism is the most troublesome for me. Like we have most modern conveniences like tampons and cars, but not TV and news? So that’s harder for me to pinpoint than say adding in the things like glass pumpkins and roses that grow out of skin. Although, I will admit I haven’t nailed down all the allusions those stood for.

Pam: I have some theories, but I have to work them out first. I do remember a thread on Twitter where she talked about how many readers read the roses as self harm, and although she didn’t intend it to be that, it was probably her way of processing self harm

Andrea: I could totally see that and does make sense. What about the coffin? It was a symbol of them holding back truths, but do you think there is more to it?

Pam: I agree the coffin is partly the secrets the Bonner girls keep, but it is also Snow White’s glass coffin that keeps her from ever changing or losing her beauty.

Andrea: I could see that as well, although, I’m not sure if the current Bonner sisters used it that way. I don’t know, I think this really does come down to me just not liking magical realism. I mean, I really, really wanted to like this book, but just couldn’t.

Pam: We should subtitle this review: The one where Drea realizes she really doesn’t like magical realism

Andrea: LOL, it’s so true! I have a feeling most people will be more on your side for this book, but in the end the magical realism is not my thing and ultimately ruined the book for me.

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