Title: The Moon Within
Author: Aida Salazar
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: February 26th 2019
**I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**
The Moon Within, Aida Salazar’s middle grade debut, is a novel I wish I could gift my eleven-year-old self. Celi is on the brink of turning twelve and she, along with the world around her, is changing faster than she can keep track of. Her body is already changing and with it, the promise of a period. Not something she is looking forward to, especially with her mom’s recent interest in their Mexica heritage. For Celi, this means a moon ceremony to celebrate her transition from girl to young woman, but Celi isn’t happy about having to share the things happening to her body with other people. Celi also finds herself torn between her best friend Marco, who is taking his first steps discovering what it means to be genderfluid, and her first crush Iván, who’s finally showing interest in her, but who is also less accepting of her best friend. Celi must find a way to navigate all the changing relationships in her life without sacrificing who she is and who she wants to be.
The Moon Within is an honest portrayal of how many young people feel about the changes their bodies go through. Celi’s first instinct when it comes to her first bra and her first period is to hide, to feel shame in the way her body now works. What Celi doesn’t quite understand yet is that her mother’s insistence on a moon ceremony, an Indigenous tradition meant to celebrate and honor the menstrual cycle, is her gift to her daughter. It’s a gift that says you don’t have to be ashamed. It’s one where the relationship between mother and daughter is defined by frankness and an openness that doesn’t leave Celi with all the unanswered questions her mother was left with. I loved the relationship between Celi and her mother because they clashed. They don’t always communicate well and Celi is just starting to see her mother as a person and not just her mom, but someone one who was once a scared girl herself.
Celi’s Mexica side isn’t the only cultural heritage that is celebrate in this one. Her father is Afro-Puerto Rican and Celi has grown up learning how to dance the bomba. I loved the portrayal of Celi’s relationship with this dance. She’s incredibly gifted and her connection to the music feels almost instinctual for her. Salazar also uses this dance to show Celi’s connection to her best friend Marco, whom she calls her best echo. Their friendship is incredibly sweet and even though Celi stumbles, this is the one relationship in this novel that felt like it could survive no matter what was thrown at them. I loved how Salazar’s portrayal of Marco being genderfluid is tied to his Indigenous roots. While our views on the gender binary are changing, we sometimes forget that many Indigenous cultures already had words for those who are nonbinary and in this case, specifically genderfluid. For Marco, being xochihuah and embodying both female and male genders, is what feels right. I loved that there is a beautiful reverence given to both the changes Celie and Marco go through and by embracing who they are, they were also reclaiming cultural traditions.
The Moon Within took me back to the days of first crushes, that uncertain time between childhood and adulthood, recounting that secret shame we sometimes feel when we get our first period, the shame that sometimes follows us into adulthood. This poignant novel-in-verse instead encourages celebration and acceptance, and one I wish every child on the verge of getting their first period could read.