Due to some upcoming book clubs and discussions, I put a popular book in my library’s children’s room at the top of my TBR list. (Reminder/Note: I am a children’s librarian.)

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The Moon Within by Aida Salazar was an exceptional middle grade read that teens and adults will love as well. I dove through in two sittings over the course of one day. If you like poetic prose (or prose-ish poetry?) and coming-of-age stories about young women, this book is for you.

The summary, from Amazon:

* “A worthy successor to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret set in present-day Oakland.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The Moon Within joins the Scholastic Gold line, which features award-winning and beloved novels. Includes exclusive bonus content!

Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions.

About her changing body.

Her first attraction to a boy.

And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.

But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.

Buy The Moon Within here.

I know this book was excellent because I dove through it in two sittings over the course of one day. This rarely happens for me anymore when it comes to books that are geared towards middle grade or older. But The Moon Within was that good and that easy to read. I read most of it during the day, then after my shower that night planned to crack open a romance novel instead. Then I remembered the cliffhanger I left off on and had to finish The Moon Within instead.

Celi, the main character, is a young girl growing up in Oakland. Her mother, a Xicana feminist proud of her Mexican heritage, notices the changes in Celi’s body and is planning her moon ceremony, a special event to honor Celi becoming a woman at the time of her first period. Celi absolutely does not want this. Though there are some things she likes about her changing body, she’s also embarrassed by it and a party dedicated to her first period is not something she wants.

Celi is not just dealing with puberty, but also the complications of a first crush and friendship. Celi’s best friend comes out as nonbinary. While Celi and her friend’s family are supportive, not everyone is.

I loved everything about this book. I wish it had been around when I was a kid as an alternative to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Don’t get me wrong! This is another favorite coming-of-age book. But I would have appreciated this read-alike, and I am sure many children will appreciate The Moon Within even more – for seeing themselves in the pages, for Salazar’s writing style, and for its modern take on puberty, friendship, and crushes.

There were two things I especially adored about this book, regarding the intersectional feminism and cultural appreciation of Mima and Teresa. Mima is Celi’s mother, and Teresa is the mother of Celi’s friend, Mar. These two are kickass women who love their children. Their husbands mirror them and are equally supportive.

  1. Early on in the book, Celi reflects on how her mother taught her about her genitalia, what she and her mother call her “flor” when she was little. I love how her mom always taught her the parts in such a sex-positive, consent-focused way.
  2. All of the main characters immediately accept Mar for coming out as nonbinary. Mar’s father shares stories from Mexica tradition about gender fluidity.

This book is for middle grade readers, and doesn’t really delve into sexuality beyond Celi’s emerging feelings, but is entirely intersectional and sex-positive. Should I ever be blessed with a child, especially a daughter, I would love for them to read this book. This was a clear 5 star read for me.

Side note: I recently read and reviewed another middle grade read, the biography Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This book is told in a similar style, where there is a linear story, but each chapter is a poem of its own. I felt the poems in Brown Girl Dreaming for the most part could stand on their own, while The Moon Within‘s chapters are just that – chapters to a larger story. I’ve you’ve read The Moon Within and like this style, I recommend Brown Girl Dreaming as a read-alike (and vice versa).

P. S. My thanks to Aida Salazar for allowing my coworkers and me to interview her a few days ago. We had an absolutely lovely, insightful conversation! Her upcoming book The Land of the Cranes promises to be equally amazing.

The Moon WithinThe Moon Within by Aida Salazar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an absolutely gorgeous, touching, powerful read. This book includes themes of coming of age, womanhood, gender, and friendship. I adored and related to Celi, a girl going through puberty, experiencing her first real crush, and feeling torn between a lifelong friendship and being accepted by the boy she likes. This book honors Xicana culture, and the author’s afterword encourages readers to honor their own heritage and self through exploring moon rituals.

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