There are so many reasons to recommend WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS. It’s by Anna-Marie McLemore, whose her first novel, The Weight of Feathers, I loved. Like her previous book, this one has spellbinding prose (I think it might be even better here, honestly) and a gorgeous story about family and identity. It definitely has a beguiling fairy tale feel, and not just because it makes use of Mexican and Pakistani folklore, but it’s also very emotionally honest, which gives it a ton of real weight. And this is a very queer book. It’s a queer YA novel and a queer love story and a queer fairy tale and perhaps most remarkably, it’s about two queer people of color in an interracial relationship who have on-the-page, loving queer sex. That alone would be reason to make note of it, because that’s so exceedingly rare, but it’s also a unique, lovely, and magical story.
Instead of a review, I decided I really wanted to make a playlist to celebrate this book. I loved the enchanting, dreamlike atmosphere and I chose songs with a similar mood that also tie in some way to the story. My explanations for them are down below, but there are no plot spoilers. So pick up a copy of WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS and enjoy!
Claire de Lune – Claude Debussy
Yes, I chose three songs in a row with the title ‘moon’ in them. All the other ones have other justifications, though, I promise! But I really do love this lullaby and thought it would fit the opening chapter, which felt almost like a bedtime story.
It’s Only a Paper Moon – Nat King Cole
This has a lighter feel than the book’s lush emotion, but I just find it so charming and after all, Miel and Sam, our protagonists, do meet as children. Sam paints and hangs moon lamps all over town for Miel, and the two of them, considered strange by their town, create a more magical world together just for themselves.
Washington Moon – Globelamp
Okay, last (consecutive) moon song. I’m not entirely sure what this song is about but the ethereal quality, poetic language, and passionate lyrics are all reminiscent of the book, and the line about how “I can’t be in two different places, though I’ve tried” recall similar quotes.
Music to Watch Boys to – Lana Del Rey
This song is for the beautiful Bonner sisters, rumored to be witches for the way they can break the heart of any boy they choose. I like vamp Lana more than use-me-abuse-me Lana and the mix of sultriness with manipulative disaffection felt very appropriate for the Bonners.
Black Magic Woman – Santana
Miel, our heroine, is Latinx and I wanted a nod to her heritage. I recognize this playlist could be a lot more diverse–I still mostly listen to predominantly white indie artists, and that’s something I should work. The lyrics apply to the four Bonner girls, but also Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and her guardian, Aracely, who can cure heartbreak; all six women are feared as brujas.
What the Water Gave Me – Florence + the Machine
I believe this exact phrase (or variants of it) appears several times in the book, and it describes one key moment.
Castle Down – Emilie Autumn
This song seems to be about an abusive lover, but I thought it could fit Miel’s emotional response to being targeted by the Bonner sisters for her roses and their willingness to do anything, even destroy her life and that of her loved ones, to take something that’s hers. I also included it for the reference to “a battered rose” and the power of words to hurt.
Three Wishes – The Pierces
You might know The Pierces from their killer (pun was not intended!) Pretty Little Liars theme song. I’m not entirely sure what this song is about either but again, the dreamlike mood and language are very evocative. I hear this with Sam’s “dark night of the soul” moment and his desires and fears regarding Miel.
Down by the Water – PJ Harvey
The edgiest song on this playlist, but When the Moon was Ours incorporates the Mexican legend of the infamous La Llorona, so I had to include this one! This song isn’t about her, nor do the book’s events play out the same way, but I still thought it was very fitting.
What If – Emilie Autumn
Another Emilie Autumn song, but I thought this was very fitting both for the highly metaphoric and fantastical language and its message, which is all about claiming the power to define oneself and to exist in a space beyond what’s deemed ‘normal’. It’s also just very pretty.
Sisters of the Moon – Fleetwood Mac
Yeah, I thought about this song because it had ‘moon’ in it too. But also we get back to the many women in this book who are considered witches, and that describes Stevie Nicks! And I put it in because I felt it fits the climax and a certain surprising moment.
Compass – Zella Day
I thought Kicker was one of the most underrated recent pop debuts (think Western-inspired Lana Del Rey). “Compass” strikes me as the perfect song for childhood friends turned lovers, which is really the emotional core of this book.
Sea of Love – Cat Power
All the chapters have titles like “sea of tranquility”, “lake of winter”, “bay of billows”, etc–which are the English names for lunar seas. ‘Sea of Love’ could well be a chapter title, and for all the myriad themes and truths the book explores about secrets and identity, it really is about love.