When the Moon Was Ours: A Novel, by Anna-Marie McLemore

This is a beautifully fashioned fable about Sam and Miel. Miel appears almost magically after the fall of a water tower and there are rumors that she may have been formed from water as the hem of her dress is always wet. The first person she meets is Sam. They stay friends and eventually fall in love. A rose vine grows from Miel’s wrist which she must trim regularly.

Also in this world are the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters who are rumored to be witches. Most of their lives they have been able to attract any boy they want at school but they feel their power is waning. They decide that the only way to restore their power of attraction is to obtain one of Miel’s roses.

As the story develops we learn that Sam is from a Pakistani family, and that they have had Sam practice bacha posh, a practice in Afghanistan and Pakistan in which a girl, usually the first born child, is dressed as a boy. This both hides the embarrassment of not having a male child and also provides someone to escort other daughters to school and the market. When they reach marriage age they are encouraged to dress and act as women again.

As they age Sam and Miel develop a passion for each other. Miel understands and keeps Sam’s secret, and Sam becomes more determined that he never wants to stop being male.

It’s a unique and unusual story built around love, gender, and family secrets. In her author’s note at the end McLemore says that the book offers many reflections of her own life, including meeting her future husband while they were in their teens and wondering about his gender identity before he was able to make that decision himself.

As a book about self-acceptance and the challenges around being born in a body that feels like the wrong gender the book has a lot to offer. As a beautiful and unusual love story the book stands apart from most others. The book was shortlisted for the National Book Award, YA category, and received a Stonewall Book Award.