This YA magical realism book by a Muslim author contains no Islam, and while it is a love story of sorts, and there is a kiss, it remains clean for the demographic. It is a snapshot of daily life for a few characters in a small magical town. There is no real understanding of the premise, or the magic, nor resolution to what happens or why any of it matters, there aren’t even forty words for love provided, yet the author is good at writing, so I kept reading, even when the plot holes and rationale for the “point” of the book clearly were not coming. The ethereal lilting tone was lovely and lyrical at times, but honestly, I was left with more confusion about the leaves, the tree, the pastel waters and the cause of blame and bigotry at the end, than when I started. It is an easy read, I don’t regret it, but it is hard to suggest others invest in a 304 page book that doesn’t really leave you feeling satisfied. I wouldn’t object to it on a shelf, and others might absolutely love the infusion of other worlds into a grounded reality to tell a story of industry leaving a town, and two kids moving from friendship to romance, but I just wanted more: more world building, more tension, more resolution, more backstory, more detail, more magic, more understanding, more character development and connection.
In the vey first chapter, a small child drowns. The child had wandered off from his nanny and died in the ocean. That is the day that the pink and purple waters of Moonlight Bay turned angry and black. Eighteen year old Raf, a Golub, blames himself because he was about to tell his childhood friend Yasmine that he was in love with her. A rule that he has been told for the last decade will mean that his leaf on his arm will fade and he will have to leave his community. When he is about to approach Yas he sees that she is cozying up with Moses, and he stops. When the body is then found, a scream breaks loose and everyone runs to the little boy. Later that night the Golub tree opens and two kids, a brother and sister emerge, and the tourist rich city is no longer beautiful. The candy factory that relies on the healing waters closes up shop and most of the townsfolk move away. Many of those that remain blame the Golub for the town’s misfortune. The Golub arrived by tree a decade before when their own homeland froze over. They live in the forest and eagerly await the tree to thaw signaling that it is safe for them to return home.
Yas and Raf carry on, Raf working in the diner, and Yas gathering shells for her mother to shape into stars that heal. Both dream of leaving the confining town, pursuing their passions: Yas art and Raf architecture, but rules, family, and obligation keep them from leaving and keep them from being more than just friends.
WHY I LIKE IT: (SPOILERS):
I like the tone of the book. It is like a dreamy lullaby that floats around, but I really needed answers. If certain threads were unresolved, I could take it as being left up to interpretation, but this was more than a literary devices, this reads underdeveloped. So much happens in the first chapter, and the rest of the book really doesn’t keep up. The reader never learns why the leaves fade or pulse or why Uncle came to the conclusions he did even if safety was his motivation, we don’t know how Kot and Nara got through the tree or survived for 10 more years in Golub. It is hard to believe that in a decade so few Golub tested out their leaves? And what purpose do they even have? They allow them to return, that is it? That is their rumored, untested magical ability? Were the waters healing before the Golub came, the confusion of what Yas and her mom do and the arrival of the tree seem a bit inconsistent. Yas feels electricity when Raf is around it is mentioned a few times, but never explored. We are told that Jake hates Golub, but does anyone else really? How can a city that reads like 10 people have its own high school? It doesn’t feel fleshed out, it reads like there are a few families is all, and doesn’t contrast it to when the town was thriving, it is rather stagnant. I get that bigotry and hate are illogical and the story is perhaps a bit of an allegory for that, but the town has pink and purple waters with healing properties that changed overnight and a group of people arrived through a tree with leaves tattooed on their arms, I don’t see how the magic or the leaf on their inner arm is what is being blamed for Sammy’s death or the water changing. It is a weak premise. Even when we learn that Uncle lied, no one seems to get any truth out of him or be determined to figure stuff out. It is a bit hard to believe no one ever looked at the beach at night, and what exactly are the Weepers doing? Some history or back story about Moonlight would be great to explore. Are Golub and humans different in any way? What was the cause of death of Raf’s dad? Absolutely nothing set out by the book is resolved, nothing is learned, no characters grow, the only closure is that Raf and Yas have told each other how they feel, and the Golub have learned that they can travel further than 40 miles from their tree, that is it.
I do like the mix of names of the characters coming from different cultures all existing without othering or explanation. I like that the slow burn angst is clean, it is nothing a 14 and up couldn’t handle, even if it is a bit obvious.
Magic, a gay couple own the movie theater, there is some angst, a couple of kisses between Yas and Raf, bullying, premonitions, family fighting, lying, sneaking, romantic hetero affection.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
There is no Islam and the plot is centered around two teens’ feelings for one another so I would not host this as a book club, nor would I really want to do so. But, if I knew there was a a group of people gathering to discuss this book, I would totally join in to see if any insight to all the unanswered threads could be resolved.