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.

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

This review was originally posted on Butler’s Pantry. My copy of Mask of Shadows was an advanced reader.

Miller, LinseyMask of Shadows. 352 p. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. ISBN 9781492647492.

Mask of Shadows Book Cover

All the nobles of Igna fear the might of the Queen’s Left Hand, four elite assassins known only as Emerald, Ruby, Amethyst, and Opal. When Sal Leon, a thief and a street fighter, steals a poster advertising auditions for the new Opal, they seize the opportunity to seek revenge on the nobles who betrayed Sal’s homeland during the last war. Kill or be killed, the auditions require strength and subtlety. Participants must eliminate their competition without arousing suspicion. Any moment might be Sal’s last.

A fusion of fantasy and political intrigue, Mask of Shadows is a dark and suspenseful read. Miller delves into themes of gender identity, prejudice, and privilege. The positive exploration of Sal’s genderfluidity makes this book an important addition to Young Adult collections. Sal’s identity is never portrayed as a hardship. Although Sal dresses to show how they wish to be addressed, they are not focused on cisnormativity, but rather on being who they are. They explain, “I always felt like Sal, except it was like watching a river flow past. The river was always the same, but you never glimpsed the same water. I ebbed and flowed, and that was my always.” Throughout the book, Sal grows as a character and learns to trust someone they initially saw as an enemy. Miller develops a compelling romantic subplot. The cliffhanger ending of this debut novel will leave readers dying for the next installment in the duology.