The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy, Queer
Release Date : March 16th 2021
Trigger warning : Ableism, Blood, Body shaming, Bullying, Drugging, Emesis, Panphobia, PTSD, Racism, Sexism, Sexual assault (on-page/major theme), Slut shaming, Rape, Trauma, Victim shaming, Violence (Source : booktriggerwarnings.com)
An unforgettable story of trauma and healing, told in achingly beautiful prose with great tenderness and care. —#1 New York Times-bestselling author Karen M. McManus
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’s 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.
“Every moment of our life, it goes with us. It lives forever. And a lot of those moments you don’t have much say over. So the ones you do, you’ve got to do everything with them. So that what lives forever is something you want to live with.”
The Mirror Season is a deeply personal, raw, emotional, and heart wrenching story about survivors, by a survivor, and for survivors of sexual assault.
Approaching the end of October and end of my vacation I wanted to read something different that is outside of the fantasy genre to mix things up and avoid a fantasy burn out. Since I am going to travel for 14 hours on the road I decided to pick an audiobook to listen to while I stay up during the long journey home. Coincidentally, The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore was available right away and I saw that it was a relatively short book I decided to pick it up.
Beforehand I only saw a few of my mutuals that have read this book and based on their ratings/reviews it’s going to be a heavy and compelling book. Before I get into my review I would like to remind readers to pay attention to the trigger warnings because in this book sexual assault is a big theme and it is shown on page. It is graphic and can be triggering so please double check to make sure you’re in a good state going into this book.
The Mirror Season is a story about two teens, Ciela and Lock, and an unfortunate night that completely changed their life forever. Graciela Cristales or Ciela is pansexual Mexican-American teen juggling between private school and helping out at her family’s famous and possibly magical pastelería.
After the dreaded night that turned her life up side down she loses her magical ability to pick certain desserts for certain people (from what I understand it’s kind of like a pastry/cake whisperer). When Ciela returns to school she meets the boy that was also there during the THAT night, the boy that shares a memory that mirrors hers and that boy’s name is Lock, the new transfer student.
The situation at school worsens as people speculate, spread rumors, and pull horrifying pranks on both Ciela and Lock. Back home odd things start to happen as trees her neighborhood disappear one by one and while mirrored glass start to appear bringing uncontrolled reckless magic.
Grasping for a sliver of her gift all the while trying to prevent the mirror glass from hurting the people she loves and Lock from making reckless decisions, Ciela jumps the gun to stand by Lock in hopes to find answers. From then on Ciela and Lock form a vulnerable bond that grows out of a shared experience and situation they are put through at school.
But their happiness one day took a turn as the bullying quickly escalated to harassment and threats from the perpetrators. Ciela is then forced to face the truth of what had happened that night and bring Lock into the fold of what actually happened to both of them.
“They counted on any girl—especially a pretty-enough queer brown one—doing whatever they asked in exchange for their favor. Bearing anything, enduring anything, excusing anything. They wrote their assumptions into the curves and colors of my body.”
McLemore’s own sexual assault experience is the basis of the story and it is reflected down the story’s most harrowing moments and graphic detail. Prior to reading this book I didn’t know that it is a story based of McLemore and their friend’s own experience, listening to the author’s note I was stunned and heart broken but I also felt scene as a fellow survivor myself that this story encapsulates explicitly the experience of being a victim, the raw complex emotions, and self blame sexual assault survivors have to deal with.
Besides discussing sexual assault McLemore also sheds light on topics such as victim shaming and the stigma that is pinned on the victim by not just society but also perpetrators. In this story McLemore also weaved in the aspect of race and class as the story is set in a private setting and perpetrators are white-cis-financially abled characters.
With this also comes discussions about the hoops that people of color, specifically queer people of color, have to go through to stand up and seek justice for the crimes done by people which race fall in the majority spectrum that in this story equipped with power and status.
How the color of someone’s skin or their gender or financial well being becomes a thing that can be catalyzed and weaponized against the victims by perpetrators or society to down play or drag the truth twisting it to fit the narrative that the people responsible were never in the wrong. The depth and nuanced discussions of the story makes The Mirror Season a powerful and compelling story.
McLemore’s writing is magical, ethereal, and accessible with beautiful prose that is as sweet as a freshly baked pan dulce. The way McLemore discusses the heavy topic of sexual assault with care and intent not leaving out or brushing off the dark hard moments as it is weaved with McLemore’s magnetic otherworldly writing.
The plot and pacing is gripping that once I started I could not stop reading. With each chapter I read, slowly, I am immersed deeper into the story, emotionally and physically. During the 14 hour journey home my eyes were wide open as I could not rest until I know the end of the story.
There are magical realism aspects within the story that becomes a symbolic or metaphoric representations of the struggles of the two main characters. The inspiration drawn for the magical realism aspect is taken from the fairytale, The Snow Queen. As it is explained in the Author’s Note, McLemore took one part of the story, the broken mirror. Besides that McLemore also took inspiration from the characters in the story.
Though while reading The Mirror Season I didn’t fully understand the mirrored glass reference as I have never read The Snow Queen hence I opted to just vibe with it. I understand that the ‘mirrored glass’ is important as it is repeatedly mentioned within the story and becomes a big part in Ciela’s development. Personally, it is a tad bit too repetitive but this didn’t hinder me in enjoying the story overall.
“Months ago, I didn’t cry, and I didn’t scream, because I thought if I started crying or screaming I’d never stop. But now I don’t care if I scream forever. If I scream forever, they will have to hear me forever.”
McLemore’s extraordinary ability in characterization is the main aspect that made me love The Mirror Season. Through Ciela and Lock, McLemore tells a story about two teenagers being vulnerable, finding comradery, and healing as they try to process the horrible experience they both share and find comfort within each other. Both characters become each other’s safe space that is full of support and understanding, vulnerable yet loving.
The growth and development of both characters are noteworthy and awe inspiring. Ciela grows to become a strong, brave, and bold as she confronts the people that’s trying to bring her down. Lock grows to be a man that forgives himself for the situations he was put in that was out of his control as he reconciles with the horrific reality of what transpired.
The most tear jerking and fearless moment involves Ciela nearing the end of the story when she finds her voice to scream for herself and Lock, that is the moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. That moment is the epitome of courage and it represents not just Ciela and Lock’s voice but also every other survivor of sexual assault.
It’s not too late for any of us.
Now we can live.
Final thoughts, The Mirror Season is an underrated (it has 1k rating?? WTF?) young adult book about trauma and healing that is beautifully written capturing the raw and jarring experience of being a sexual assault survivor.
A nuanced story that is in depth and complex set in a realistic setting with a magical realism twist enriching the story even more. I would like to emphasize that The Mirror Season is a personal story of McLemore’s, a person that has survived multiple sexual assault incidents. It is a harrowing story at it’s core but it’s also a story about finding power and healing.
Not every moment contained within book are sad and tragic there are moments of happiness in between experienced by Ciela and Lock. How survivors can find solidarity and empowerment from each other or from family and friends that loves them that are willing to understand and offer unconditional love.
I would like to remind future readers again to check the trigger warnings before reading The Mirror Season and I have included it at the start of this review. I highly recommend everyone to read this book, it is hands down one of the best young adult contemporary books I’ve read in a while. It is short and under 400 pages that I’m sure readers can finish in one sitting. I don’t normally feel a strong connection with young adult contemporary books but the message and empowering aspects of The Mirror Season really got to me as a fellow survivor. GAH! Just read it !