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When the Moon was Ours
Author:Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon was Ours

Anna-Marie McLemore

To the boys who get called girls,

the girls who get called boys,

and those who live outside these words.

To those called names,

and those searching for names of their own.

To those who live on the edges,

and in the spaces in between.

I wish for you every light in the sky.

Maybe I need you the way that big moon needs that open sea.

Maybe I didn’t even know I was here ’til I saw you holding me.

—Andrea Gibson


While this book is very much a work of fiction, I wouldn’t have felt safe writing a story that draws on so many aspects of my identity if it weren’t for many wonderful people I have the privilege of knowing and working with. I’m tremendously thankful for all of them. I’ll name a few here.

Taylor Martindale Kean, who I wanted to work with the first time we met, who I’ve been grateful to work with ever since, and who is an incredible advocate for diversity in literature. Stefanie Von Borstel and Adriana Dominguez, for their help with my Spanish, and everyone at Full Circle Literary for creating a place where diverse authors and stories are welcome.

Kat Brzozowski, for her guidance and wisdom with this book, and for her energy, humor, and spirit. Lisa Pompilio, for another gorgeous cover that captures the spirit of two characters and their world. The team at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press: Tom Dunne, Michelle Cashman, Brittani Hilles, Marie Estrada, Karen Masnica, Brant Janeway, Lisa Davis, and Romanie Rout; Talia Sherer, Anne Speith, and Peter Janssen at Macmillan Library; and everyone else who turned this story into a book.

The writers who offered their insights: Mackenzi Lee, for the candor and the camaraderie across three thousand miles. Kelly Loy Gilbert, for her invaluable thoughts no matter what stage a manuscript is at. Aisha Saeed, for helping make this story’s grounding more authentic and its magic more accessible. Shveta Thakrar, for her advice on helping these characters’ heritages shine through, and for being a sister in fairy tales.

Robin Talley, who through her books and her friendship makes me braver and a little less afraid to write queer characters.

Nadia Hashimi and Jenny Nordberg, whose work first introduced me to the cultural and societal context of bacha posh.

My mother, who taught me to be a hopeless romantic. My father, for raising me to believe there was nothing being a girl could stop me from doing. My family, who makes me proud of the people and places I come from.

My husband, for his grace and patience in all things and, in particular, with all my questions about his life as a transgender boy.

Readers, for giving books lives of their own.

sea of clouds

As far as he knew, she had come from the water. But even about that, he couldn’t be sure.

It didn’t matter how many nights they’d met on the untilled land between their houses; the last farm didn’t rotate its crops, and stripped the soil until nothing but wild grasses would grow. It didn’t matter how many stories he and Miel had told each other when they could not sleep, him passing on his mother’s fables of moon bears that aided lost travelers, Miel making up tales about his moon lamps falling in love with stars. Sam didn’t know any more than anyone else about where she’d come from before he found her in the brush field. She seemed to have been made of water one minute and the next, became a girl.

Someday, he and Miel would be nothing but a fairy tale. When they were gone from this town, no one would remember the exact brown of Miel’s eyes, or the way she spiced recado rojo with cloves, or even that Sam and his mother were Pakistani. At best, they would remember a dark-eyed girl, and a boy whose family had come from somewhere else. They would remember only that Miel and Sam had been called Honey and Moon, a girl and a boy woven into the folklore of this place.

This is the story that mothers would tell their children:

There was once a very old water tower. Rust had turned its metal such a deep orange that the whole tank looked like a pumpkin, an enormous copy of the fruit that grew in the fields where it cast its shadow. No one tended this water tower anymore, not since a few strikes from a summer of lightning storms left it leaning to one side as though it were tired and slouching. Years ago, they had filled it from the river, but now rust and minerals choked the pipes. When they opened the valve at the base of the tower, nothing more than a few drops trickled out. The bolts and sheeting looked weak enough that one autumn windstorm might crumble the whole thing.