When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

McLemore, Anna-Marie. When the Moon Was Ours. 273 p. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. ISBN 978125005869.

When the Moon Was Ours Book Cover

Since the day the town emptied the rusted water tower and found Miel huddled in the wet brush, she and Samir have been inseparable. In their small town, both of them are outsiders—a girl born from water and a boy “whose family had come from somewhere else.” Sam does not question Miel’s mysterious past or how she grows roses from her wrist. He paints her moons and hangs them in trees throughout town to light her way. Miel has seen more of Sam than he will show to anyone else. The Bonner sisters are outsiders too, but unlike Miel and Sam, they hold power over the town. They enchant and break hearts. No one rejects their advances. At least, no one did until the four Bonner sisters became three when Chloe, the oldest, left to have a baby. Desperate to restore their power after Chloe’s return, Ivy Bonner decides Miel’s roses are the answer. She will go to any length to take them, even if it means revealing Miel and Sam’s secrets to the whole town.

Written in alternating perspectives of Sam and Miel, When the Moon Was Ours tells a story of self-discovery, secrets, and love. The intersection of ownership and identity is a central theme throughout the novel. Samir’s mother demonstrates her love for him by giving him space to discover for himself who he is and how he wants live. At the resolution, Samir and Miel may not have all the answers to their questions, but they have given themselves permission to “become what they could not yet imagine.” When the Moon Was Ours is full of sorrow, hope, and redemption. McLemore’s prose is as magical and poetic as the roses that grow from Miel’s wrist. Fans who remember her richly descriptive style from The Weight of Feathers will not be disappointed. This magical realism novel is an important addition to any young adult collection for its authentic diversity and enchanting story.

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

This is a revision of a review originally posted on Butler’s Pantry.

Williamson, Lisa. The Art of Being Normal. 352 p. FSG, 2016. ISBN 9780374302375.

The Art of Being Normal Book Cover

David’s classmates call her a “freak.” It started when she was eight and shared with the class what she wanted to be when she grew up. Other kids wanted to be sports stars, actresses, or the prime minister, but not David. She wanted to be a girl. Aside from her two best friends, Essie and Felix, she is isolated in her posh high school, where no secrets stay hidden for long. Although she longs to tell her parents the truth and start her life as Kate, fear of rejection keeps her feelings locked inside her.

Leo Denton is desperate to escape Cloverdale. His acceptance into the elite Eden Park High School is his best chance to leave behind the bad memories at his old school and his unstable relationship with his mother. He dreams of finding his father who left when he was a baby. All Leo has to do is keep his head down and stay out of trouble so no one will learn about his past. However, when he finds himself falling for the popular and artistic Alicia Baker, his secrets get harder to hide in the spotlight.

Set in the suburbs outside of London, The Art of Being Normal is a coming-of-age story that explores gender identity, socioeconomic differences, and what it means to fit in. Written in first-person narration, the chapters alternate between the perspectives of Kate and Leo. Overall, the self-acceptance narrative is flawed by a fixation with cis-normative standards of gender expression. Leo “passes.” He is never once denied masculine pronouns except in overt instances of bullying. However, when he chooses to share his story with his father and with the girl he likes, he faces rejection. Kate, on the other hand, gets misgendered throughout the book, even by her allies. No one calls her “Kate” until she starts wearing dresses, and the chapter markers designate her as “David” too. While The Art of Being Normal provides visibility for transgender teens, it fails to challenge cis-normative standards or break out of the gender binary.