Title: How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 10th 2021
TW: suicide, racism, xenophobia, colorism, ableism, slut-shaming, death of a parent, emotional abuse, religious abuse, depression, fatphobia, brief mention of marital rape
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a compelling exploration of self-love, featuring some of the most beguiling prose I’ve ever come across. Moon and her twin sister Star could not be any different. Star is a social media darling while Moon often hides behind her camera. Their mother only has eyes for Star while never losing an opportunity to remind Moon how much she falls short. When Moon is roped into accompanying her sister on an Influencer tour of the country, she begins to realize that maybe she isn’t meant to live in her sister’s shadow. With a new potential romance and an opportunity to step into her own spotlight with her art, Moon is finally able to take control of her life, but in so doing, must confront those who’ve held her back for so long.
Moon Fuentez has never felt like she could compete with her twin sister. Her mother has saved all of her affection for Star and has only had criticism for Moon. As a result, Moon has a hard time believing her own worth and struggles to accept when others show their preference for her. This has led to a lot of distorted ideas about herself and in particular her body. Part of Moon’s journey is coming to the realization that she has endured years of abuse from her mother. All the insults from her mother about being too fat or too loose have shaped her self-esteem. Her mother is very Catholic and has raised her daughters to believe sex is sinful, teaching them about La Raíz, a family cursed past down through the women in their family, triggered when they have sex for the first time. Her mother also has a lot of internalized prejudices that she’s projected onto her daughters in a very unhealthy and abusive way. Moon is at home in nature. The flowers, the trees, the stars all speak to her and she can’t help but be pulled into their orbit. She’s introspective and full of wonderment, always looking to fall in love with another part of the world she never noticed before. She is full of curiosity, largely encouraged by her father who, as an anthropologist and archeologist, made a career out of exploring the great mysteries of the world.
Star is not an easy character to like, but like Moon, she is also a byproduct of her mother. Deeply religious, Star has built her image around this idea of purity. For Star, other people are either part of her supporting cast or accessories she needs to collect in order to uphold her image. It’s easier for Moon to let go of her mother as opposed to her sister. Star feels like more of a part of who she is because they are twins, because they grew up together and are one of each other’s constants. They also have shared childhood trauma that helps them understand each other in a way no one else will.
Santiago and Moon do not get along in the beginning. Both have a tendency to be pugnacious, but it isn’t long before their sparring gives way to banter. Like Moon, Santiago is used to being in his brother’s shadow. He’s used to people using him. He also has a disability, having lost his hand, and has to deal with ableism from other people who either think he is inept or worse, an inspiration. Moon and Santiago bond over their love of food. Santiago is a chef, who finds his own kind of wonderment in the ingredients he uses. While Moon shows a reverence for nature, Santiago shows the same kind of appreciation for the food he prepares. Their relationship develops slowly, each learning to be vulnerable with the other, but they also have a lot to unlearn. Santiago and Moon stumble a lot when it comes to their relationship. It’s so easy for them to hurt each other because of their own insecurities.
How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a mesmerizing story about unlearning harmful beliefs about yourself and embracing every part of who you are. Beautiful and heartbreaking all at once, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s latest is an utterly enchanting read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★