Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When the Moon Was Ours

When the Moon Was Ours
by Anna-Marie McLemore
Recommended Ages: 14+

Here is a strange story of young adult romance, with a thick line under "adult," featuring a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, a boy who hangs painted moons in the trees, a woman who specializes in curing broken hearts, and four red-headed sisters who specialize in breaking them. It glitters with the magic of stars, of flowing water, of colored glass, of different colors of pumpkins and lemons and eggs, of the power of secrets, and of the courage to face nameless fears.

I had a short window of time to do a pre-publication review of this new book by the author of The Weight of Feathers, based on a Kindle proof made available through Netgalley dot com, but unfortunately I muffed it. The book was released in the U.S. yesterday, Oct. 4, 2016, while I was still racing to finish it. Between being on assignment day and night for my local newspaper and having to recharge my Kindle's battery at an inopportune moment, I just didn't have time between receiving the proof and the pre-pub deadline. So, my apologies for that.

As for my review, let me state up front what I liked about this book, in the spirit of my policy never to review a book about which I have nothing good to say. I thought the language was very rich in description that appealed to several senses at once. It showed a keen eye for color, a nose for scents, a taste for spices, and an ear for the vibrations of magical energy and weirdness under the surface of present-day life. It takes place in a lyrical world of magical-realist teen-romance melodrama with a bold thread of folklore and some strikingly original fantasy brushstrokes. It is not afraid to move the reader beyond his or her comfort zone, with an uncompromisingly non-traditional teen romance and some disturbing, dark magic.

BUT - and there are some big "buts" for me - it qualifies for a mild Occult Content Advisory and a bracing Adult Content Advisory. I recently heard from some Christian parents about how difficult it is for them even to take their kids to the public library, where a moral agenda opposed to what they are trying to teach them is flaunted in their faces; I can sympathize with their discomfort, and I would not recommend this book to them. What I didn't guess until after I started reading this book was that it was going to have such strong sexual content, including frankly LGBT material, with an emphasis on the T. The story seems to have some personal significance to its author, who includes both a foreword and an afterword relating her fiction to her real-life marriage to a transgendered man and her desire to preach the gospel of diversity. I'm not opposed to her expressing her views, though I think there is more room to disagree with them than she would probably grant. Parents and children should be aware these issues are there, and be prepared to discuss them before delving into this book.

My other main "but" with regard to this book, entirely aside from its ideology, is an effect I have almost never experienced before. It might best be called "lyricism fatigue," or perhaps "a surfeit of sensual beauty." To put it in more prosy terms, I liked the style of the book at every point throughout (except for an occasional burst of profanity, which seemed out of place), but its cumulative effect built and built until I felt I'd had enough - about a third of the way through. I soldiered on regardless, though perhaps not reading as many pages a night as I normally would have. Then I got to the end of the story and was surprised to find out it wasn't the end of the book. I read the next chapter and was surprised again to find it wasn't the last. Nor was the next chapter. Nor was the next. At one point, as anyone within a block of my house can bear witness, I screamed aloud, "Is this g**d*** book never going to f***ing end?" And then I realized the window at my elbow, facing the quiet street in front of my house, was wide open. Sorry, neighbors! Sheepishly, I shut the window and, within a few minutes, finished the book.

Hand to heaven, I do not fish for negative things to say about a book. Quite the contrary. I would recommend this book as an example of a descriptive style that appeals vividly to the senses, and of a strain of magical realism that inspires dread, sorrow, and a sense of mystery. But it also has its flaws. From a literary standpoint, I was most exasperated by its pacing. From a personal standpoint, I am concerned about the fresh new twist this book embodies in the moral character of today's juvenile fiction.

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