Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within features a beautifully dimensional cast of Latinx characters who are evocatively brought to life through her poetic vignettes. However, at its core the book is a coming-of-age story about 11-year-old Celi Rivera, a shy and sensitive black Puerto Rican Mexican American girl.
Celi desires privacy and a skater boy named Iván’s attention. Her mother, on the other hand, confuses her shyness for shame, and demands her blushing pre-teen celebrate her changing body in a moon ceremony, far more publicly than she would like. Celi’s father teaches world music and isn’t as excited at the thought of his little girl growing up. Additionally, Celi has a little brother, Juju, who respects her privacy about as much as her mom does.
Celi hides her secrets away in a figurative locket she keeps close to her heart.
Further complicating things, her best friend Marco begins exploring his gender identity and becomes the target of many cruel jokes. Celi has to make tough choices as she negotiates the complex relationships she has with her friends, family, love interest, and the requisite mean girl.
Salazar’s words are poetry: crystal in their clarity, surgical in their precision. Each vignette demands to be read more than once, preferably out load, with or without an audience. I love the descriptions of Celi’s emerging sexuality. This is an honest and unapologetic book with complex characters. I appreciated the emphasis placed on familial relationships, cultural traditions, and conflicting desires.
I recommend The Moon Within for older elementary, middle grade, and young adult readers as well as those of us who never stopped reading adolescent literature!