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I had seen a friend of mine raving about this book by Anna-Marie McLemore online, so when it caught my eye in the YA section of my local library, I grabbed it. It was a super quick read and totally worth it!
This book definitely qualifies as magical realism because it takes place in a world very similar to ours, but also very different. There’s no mention of what country in which the book takes place, but does talk about Sam and his mother as being Palestinian and moving fairly recently (as in a few years ago) to the small town in which Sam is now growing up.
Sam was born a girl named Samira, but he’s been dressing in boys’ clothes and going by “Sam” ever since his grandmother died when he was four. Sam’s grandmother used to tell Sam about the Palestinian practice of bacha posh, in which families without any sons will choose a daughter to dress and act like a boy until she’s grown and old enough to get married. Because Sam has no siblings, he insists he is doing this to protect his mother until the day he grows up and is ready to live as a woman.
Except Sam is transgender. His mother knows it and his best friend, Miel, knows it. They’re just waiting for Sam to figure it out. Only a couple other people in town know that Sam was born Samira. When it was clear he really wanted to do this, Sam’s mother moved them to a new town where no one knew them and made sure all his paperwork said “Sam” or “Samir” instead of “Samira.”
Miel arrived in town the day they knocked down the old water tower. She just spilled right out onto the ground along with all the water that poured out. No one knew who she was or where she came from, but a young woman named Aracely, who lives alone, agrees to take Miel in to live with her.
Miel has roses that grow from her wrist. Every time one gets cut off or separated, a new one will start growing in its place. Miel’s parents believed it was a sign Miel was cursed or possessed so they tried everything to get rid of it, but none of it worked. Her dad left and her mom and brother drowned while trying to purge the evil spirit from Miel. As a result, Miel has a lot of guilt and drowns every rosebud that blooms on her wrist as a sacrifice to her mother’s wandering spirit, but the four Bonner sisters want Miel’s roses for themselves and they will stop at nothing to get them.
The Bonner sisters are four gorgeous redheads, easily the prettiest girls in town, who are accustomed to getting everything they want. Their parents are too afraid of them to deny them anything and their beauty has the boys at school fawning all over them. But when Miel witnesses one Bonner girl’s failure to seduce a young boy, the Bonner sisters decide to take revenge. They think they can use Miel’s roses to make anyone fall in love with them, and then they will have reasserted their power and will once again reign as The Bonner Sisters.
But Miel knows the roses won’t do what the Bonner girls think they will and she’s afraid that, if she lets someone else have her rosebuds instead of sacrificing them to her mother, then her mother’s spirit will wander the earth in pain and misery for all eternity and she can’t let that happen. It’s a pretty awesome metaphor for not letting anyone take your power away from you.
But, like I said, the Bonner girls will stop at nothing to get what they want, including blackmail and kidnapping. They threaten to tell lies about Miel’s mother and Miel is afraid of what that will do to her mother’s restless spirit. They also find out the truth about Sam and threaten to tell the whole town, which is the last thing Miel wants.
In the end, Miel and Sam stand firm in their beliefs and refuse to let the Bonner girls blackmail either of them. It’s what we all root for our characters to do, but what so few characters (and real-life people) actually manage. But the result is an awesome demonstration of the power of, not just knowing who you are, but owning it and not letting anyone else define you. It’s so, so, so good!
What did you guys read this week? Anything else you read because a friend liked it?