CW: This book is about sexual assault and also contains instances of racism, homophobia, and bullying. These themes will be discussed in the below review.
Note: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will receive a small commission if you choose to purchase via the links in this post. This is a way to support indie bookstores & the work I put into this blog! It’s appreciated, but never expected.
Title: The Mirror Season
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: March 16, 2021
Synopsis: “When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family’s possibly-magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Mirror Season…
Graciela Cristales’ whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.
But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela’s school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened.”
Ciela Cristales’s world is turned upside down when she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for knowing exactly which pan dulce is right for each customer at her family’s panadería. Trees begin disappearing all around her. Mirrored glass begins to appear, shattering and burrowing into Ciela. When the boy from that night shows up at her school, Ciela discovers his name is Lock, and that his memories from the party are much fuzzier than hers. As Ciela and Lock grow closer, she knows she can never tell him about the depth of the trauma that has bound them together.
The Mirror Season deals directly with sexual assault, but does so in a way I haven’t seen before. Like all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, this YA novel has magical elements woven throughout in a natural, seamless way. The Mirror Season also draws inspiration from the Snow Queen fairytale, and snow, ice, and mirrors are used throughout the book to echo Ciela’s trauma. I found this to be a unique and creative way to talk about trauma, and it brought Ciela’s voice and feelings to life.
This novel is very much about two teens bound together by trauma. Ciela and Lock were assaulted at the same party, and they find themselves drawn together. As they begin to form a tentative friendship, that will grow into more than friendship, Ciela finds herself forced to confront her painful memories of that night; she’s also trying to disentangle her feelings for Lock from her pain and her trauma. Lock’s memories of that night are fuzzy, but Ciela knows who assaulted both of them, and she must grapple with this knowledge. She struggles with carrying the weight of that night on her own, while also wanting to protect Lock from the pain that comes with knowing the truth.
Ciela and Lock’s relationship is truly the center of this novel. Anna-Marie McLemore addresses how the intersection of identities is intrinsically linked to trauma. Ciela is a pansexual Latina girl, while Lock is a white boy. Ciela’s experiences as a sexual assault survivor in a queer brown body is indredibly different than Lock’s as a white male survivor. Their relationship is one born from trauma, but that eventually blossoms into beauty in its own right. Throught their friendship, Ciela and Lock find themselves both processing their pain and allowing themselves to take up space. The relationship between them constantly shifts throughout the book as they both work through their memories and trauma. This novel also deals directly with bullying, and how queer brown girls are forced to navigate the world.
While The Mirror Season is obviously about some very heavy topics, it’s also very much about family, friendship, and food. Ciela has grown up at her family’s panadería, where she’s inherited a gift from her bisabuela: she always knows exactly which pan dulce each person needs, whether it’s something sugary to soften their hearts, or the spice of cinnamon to embolden them. In the wake of her assault, Ciela finds that her gift has disappeared, and she mourns the loss of a piece of herself as well the connection between her and her bisabuela. Ciela’s family and best friend can see Ciela’s pain, but she can’t bring herself to tell them about what happened. Ciela’s connection to her family and to food feels utterly palpable, and is written in such a beautiful way.
Anna-Marie McLemore is one of my favorite authors, and The Mirror Season may be my new favorite of their books. Like their previous YA novels, this one is full of beautiful, poetic prose, and just the right hints of magic. The Mirror Season leans far more contemporary than most of their books, but still calls upon magic and fairy tales to tell its story. I found the pacing and structure to be spot-on; the story flows in a way that mirrors the constantly changing dynamics between Ciela and Lock, as well as between the two of them and their own journeys as survivors.
Readers who’ve enjoyed Anna-Marie McLemore’s previous books will love The Mirror Season, though I encourage all readers to prepare themselves and prioritize their mental health while reading. I’ll be honest and say that this was an incredibly difficult review to write. The Mirror Season carries so much depth, trauma, and pain, while also holding space for hope and resilience. There is so much more to say when it comes to this hauntingly, heartbreakingly beautiful story that I cannot even put into words. Instead, I’ll say that I’m eternally grateful to Anna-Marie McLemore for drawing upon their own experiences to give us this gift of a book. It’s one that I will never forget.
Thank you to NetGalley and Feiwel & Friends for the digital review copy!