Saturday, July 29, 2017

Finding Neurodiversity in Fiction: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Maria McLemore

This isn't canon, or even headcanon -- that is, I'm not claiming any of the characters in this book should be read as neurodiverse. But it did strike me as containing a wonderful metaphor, and one wide open for neurodiverse people to embrace, if we want to.

(With one caveat... part of the metaphor is so viscerally unappealing to me, I almost stopped reading the book.)

When the Moon Was Ours is a work of magic realism, a story about claiming one's identity, and a tender romance. It's probably most aptly targeted at a YA audience, but adults will love it too. The plot is so fantastical it's probably simplest not to try to explain it, but here is the relevant part: Miel, a teenaged girl, comes from a family of "brujos and brujas," who have helpful gifts like being able to heal broken bones. But Miel's strange gift is considered a curse: she --

-- ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh! --

-- grows roses from her wrist, beautiful fragrant roses that express her innermost feelings. Miel's father believes that anyone who grows roses from their body -- ugh! -- will ultimately turn on their family, and Miel underwent genuine torture from her family's efforts to cure or exorcise her.

You see.

Here are some sections that particularly stuck with me (all emphases are mine):

"'She loved you,' Aracely said. 'But she got lost thinking that your roses were something outside of you... ' [spoilers deleted] 'She never wanted to hurt you.'

'You really believe that?' Miel asked, and she heard in her own voice both skepticism and forgiveness. A suspicion both that her mother had been trying to hurt her and that she had been justified in doing it. 

'Yes,' Aracely said. 'I've always believed that. But just because she loved you doesn't mean you deserved what she did. Or what he did.'

It takes Miel some time to accept that Aracely is right: that her roses aren't a curse, that her mother was wrong, but that she did act from love.

"Her mother hadn't hated her. She knew that. She'd feared for her. She'd loved Miel, seen her a daughter she could lose to petals and thorns. She'd been a young mother little older than Aracely, panicked and desperate to hold on to the children she'd made.

What mother could resist a hundred tales of roses that had stolen the souls of sons and daughters? What mother could stand against her husband's insistence that their daughter was sick and needed to be cured?"
I hope this doesn't come off as sounding like an apologist for curebie parents, but part of Miel's journey towards accepting herself is believing in her mother's love for her. It helps lift the shame that keeps her from protecting herself against those that threaten her.

There's also a wonderful, complex self-acceptance journey for Miel's beloved friend and new lover Samir, which adds to the richness of the story. I highly recommend it.