When the Moon Was Ours

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
When the Moon Was Ours Book Poster Image
Lush and lyrical story explores identity, love, and magic.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about bacha posh, the tradition in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in which a girl in a son-less family is raised as a boy until she's of age to be married. The book also teaches readers about aspects of the transgender experience, elements of Mexican folklore, and the geography of the moon.

Positive Messages

Makes it clear that you shouldn't let anyone else define who or what you are and that those who love you will stand by you even when they don't fully understand. The story also promotes close relationships between parents and their children and siblings. Love is love, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Miel and Sam are incredibly close friends and then romantic partners who love and support each other through many obstacles. Sam's mom and Aracely are also encouraging and helpful.


The Bonner sisters hurt Miel and leave her stranded in a coffin-like space. One sister painfully rips out Miel's flower at the root, making her bleed profusely. There's a story told over and over again in which a mother tries to drown her own children. A character nearly kills himself but is saved. One character slaps another.


Two teens in love have sex twice; the lovemaking is described more in one scene than in the other. The Bonner sisters are known for seducing young men who were with other young women. A character is known to have had a baby out of wedlock.


Occasional strong language: "f--k," "s--t," "a--holes," "bitch," "dyke"

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When the Moon Was Ours is the second magical realism love story by critically acclaimed author Anna-Marie McLemore. The novel blends Mexican folklore (such as the legend of La Llorona, aka the Weeping Woman) with a diverse romance between a Latina girl who can grow flowers out of her wrists and her best friend, a transgender South Asian boy. There's occasional strong language, usually "f--k" or "s--t," but also insults such as "dyke." The romantic plot does include two love scenes, one which is pretty frank in its descriptions, as well as references to the sexual exploits of four "queen bee" sisters. When the Moon Was Ours is an ideal conversation starter about teen sex and sexuality, LGBTQ discrimination, the representation of diversity in books, and the literary genre of magical realism.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAstreas February 25, 2019
Teen, 14 years old Written byrobyn.grace.03 October 23, 2017

What's the story?

WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS follows inseparable best friends Miel and Sam, otherwise known as Honey (which is what miel means in English) and Moon (because Sam is an artist who paints and hangs moons around their town). Miel is no ordinary teen -- flowers grow out of her wrists, and she was first discovered in the water that spilled from the local water tower when she was 5. Sam isn't ordinary, either -- he wasn't born Samir, as everyone besides Miel and his mother believes, but Samira. As their friendship turns into an intensely felt romance, they must both contend with the four beautiful red-headed Bonner sisters, who want Miel's flowers, even if they have to blackmail and torture her to claim them.

Is it any good?

This beautifully written romance is a magical fairy tale about best friends who fall in love in a poignant, honest, and life-altering way. Author Anna-Marie McLemore, a finalist for the American Library Association's William C. Morris YA Debut Award for her first novel, Weight of Feathers, outdoes herself with her second book. The novel features an atypical couple with an authenticity that stems from the author's own first-love-turned-marriage with a trans man. But even before you get to the author's note, where she lovingly explains all of that, readers will be swept up by the story and captivated by how McLemore weaves the ordinary in with the extraordinary. The entitled, clannish, and self-destructive Bonner sisters who truly believe everyone should either fall in love with them or at the very least do as they say are like The Virgin Suicides' Lisbon sisters meets the Mean Girls Plastics' clique.

Despite their years of friendship and love, Miel and Sam's evolving relationship doesn't always come up roses. They both have major identity issues to deal with, and they don't necessarily know what to say or how to say it. McLemore includes nuanced supporting characters for both Miel (Aracely, her big-sister-like guardian, a curandera -- healer -- who cures lovesickness) and Sam (his mom, who moved to their small town years earlier so a young Sam could live as a boy). Sam's gender identity is inspired by the Afghani tradition of bacha posh -- a fascinating practice in which parents with only daughters would raise one as a son until the child was past adolescence and ready for marriage. Regardless of what Sam keeps hidden, he undeniably loves Miel so much he hangs moons for her. She, in turn, would do anything to keep him safe. Richly told and unique, When the Moon Was Ours is an enchanting and unforgettable read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how When the Moon Was Ours deals with LGBTQ issues. Does knowing that the author identifies as a queer Latina make the book more authentic?

  • How does sex change the central relationship in When the Moon Was Ours? What, if any, consequences are there to the sexual relationship? 

  • Talk about the various kinds of diversity in the novel. Why are diverse representations important in children's and young adult literature?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance and LGBTQ stories

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