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The Moon Within

Review

The Moon Within

Celi Rivera is full of secrets and questions. She's 11, almost 12, and her body has begun to change. She's growing hair on her legs, her armpits have begun to smell and her mother informs her that soon, she's going to have her moon ceremony to commemorate her first period. But Celi doesn't want to have a moon ceremony or a period. She's embarrassed by her changing body and how her mother speaks openly to her family and friends about how powerful her moon ceremony can be. She'd rather dance while her best friend Magdalena (known as Magda) plays the drums. Or think about her crush on Iván from school.

"Celi's Black-Puerto Rican-Mexican mixed family, the homage paid to their ancestors, the healthy, open perspectives of gender and sexuality --- Salazar blends them expertly with first crushes and friendship, making for a fiercely necessary and wonderfully readable novel."

Celi and Magda tell each other everything. Celi even tells Magda how she's embarrassed by her mom and her impending moon ceremony. But when Magda tells Celi to call him Marco, and that he doesn't feel like just a girl but rather that he has both masculine and feminine energies, it takes a while for Celi to process. She'd always thought of her friend as just a "tomboy." Her parents and Marco's parents help her understand that genderfluidity isn't uncommon, and their indigenous ancestors have a term for it --- xochihuah, neither female nor male but both. Celi comes to understand that Marco might realize, as he grows up, that he is a man, or he may always harbor both the masculine and feminine. Either way he's happy that his family and his best friend are here to support him, respect him and treat him with love.

Not everyone understands, though --- including Iván. And Celi must navigate how her burgeoning new feelings affect her ability to see clearly and to be a good friend. Ultimately, she finds her way to a deeper understanding of identity, body, love and truth.

THE MOON WITHIN is a beautiful, powerful middle grade novel. It's been called a worthy successor to Judy Blume's novel ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET. Celi's story of coming to understand the rhythms of her own body and that of her genderfluid friend is a much-needed addition to the canon of middle grade literature. Celi's profound love of music and dance resonates perfectly in the poetry of Salazar's highly accessible novel in verse. The novel emphasizes that puberty and periods are nothing to be ashamed of, while addressing sensitively the very real confusion and embarrassment that often comes with them. Celi's story explores the connections our bodies have to nature and the pre-colonial, indigenous understandings of gender and body that we should honor today. Celi's Black-Puerto Rican-Mexican mixed family, the homage paid to their ancestors, the healthy, open perspectives of gender and sexuality --- Salazar blends them expertly with first crushes and friendship, making for a fiercely necessary and wonderfully readable novel. I am so grateful that a generation of readers can turn to Celi's story. Lyric and lovely, profound and accessible, this title is an absolute must-read and one of my favorite middle grade novels of all time. 

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on February 26, 2019

The Moon Within
by Aida Salazar