Anna-Marie McLemore wields their magic once again in their upcoming YA novel The Mirror Season, the story of two teens who meet for the first time after experiencing sexual assault during a party.
Reader warning: This review discusses rape and sexual assault as experienced by McLemore and the characters in their novel.
McLemore writes characters and relationships outside of the LGBT acronym. Their acclaimed novels featuring Queer, trans, non-binary, and gender diverse characters include When the Moon Was Ours and Blanca & Roja. The protagonist of The Mirror Season identifies as pansexual, a sexual orientation still misunderstood among LGBTQ+ individuals and allies. Each of McLemore’s novels is filled to the brim with memorable characters and ethereal prose. McLemore’s use of magical realism makes their storytelling even richer.
In their author’s note, McLemore mentions that not only is The Mirror Season inspired by the fairy tale The Snow Queen, but it is also based on their real life experience of being sexually assaulted. Like the main characters Ciela and Lock, McLemore and their friend (a man) were sexually assaulted at the same time and by the same perpetrator. Sexual assault and rape are difficult topics to write about, but McLemore writes the story with care, creating a well nuanced narrative about the trauma and healing after being raped and or sexually assaulted. As someone who had the same experience, I appreciate and commend McLemore for writing this powerful novel.
Ciela knows what her customers need once they step into her aunts’ Pasteleria (Bakery). But after being sexually assaulted at a party over the summer, she has lost the magic she inherited from her great-grandmother. A Queer brown Mexican, her appearance and sexuality make her a target to be threatened and taken advantage of by the privileged white students who participated in the sexual assault. The small town and high school peddle conservative beliefs about sex and virginity. When she starts school again the following fall, she finds out that the new student happens to be Lock. On the night of the assault, she was with him. He was also violated. But unlike her, he was drugged. He doesn’t remember all that had happened that night, including Ciela.
An incident involving inflated condoms floating in the boys’ locker room leads the school Principal to assign Ciela and Lock to clean it up. The two become friends as they bake together and explore a secret forest of trees slowly turning into glass. McLemore effortlessly blends realism with otherworldly elements like mirror shards embedded into skin and pieces of glass raining on a road. Like in The Snow Queen, the mirror shards in Ciela and Lock keep them from the truth. Ciela, afraid of hurting Lock, doesn’t reveal what happened that night right away. As Lock starts to acknowledge that he was drugged, he blames himself. The lack of communication between them accumulates over time until it becomes a hideous reflection of themselves, something they cannot turn away from.
McLemore, like in their previous novels, tackles sexuality and gender roles. Lock crochets and begins to enjoy cooking more with Ciela. Some of Ciela’s classmates assume she’s a lesbian after knowing that she once dated her best friend Jess. I lived in a small conservative town when I was younger, so I appreciate McLemore showing experiences of Latinx and or sexual and gender diverse people not seen a lot in the media.
The Mirror Season excels in telling a compelling story about reclaiming your agency after it’s violently ripped from you. It is a story of the harm coming from silence and double standards.
The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore will be available from Feiwel & Friends on March 16th.
I’ve received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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