Review: The Moon Within, by Aida Salazar.

Review by Jennifer Doll

How do you accept being accepted when it means giving up your secrets? Celi Rivera is a twelve-year-old bomba dancer who is nervously awaiting her first menstruation while navigating complex personal relationships–from a family that can’t seem to give her enough privacy, to her friend Magda awakening to a genderfluid identity, to her fateful first crush. She dreads the Moon Ceremony her mother has planned for her, but how can she stop something so inevitable? Salazar artfully navigates Celi’s relationship to her Mexican-Puerto Rican upbringing and multiracial identity, and how it intersects her feelings about puberty. Salazar emphasizes the cultures that weave Celi’s family with passages written in both Spanish and Nahuatl and numerous meditations on indigenous beliefs. One of the most powerful scenes occurs halfway through the book when Celi’s friend Magda has a ceremony, with friends and family present, to assume the role of xochihuah, a Nahuatl word describing someone who has both female and male energy. Magda takes a new name, Marco, and represents as a boy, using male pronouns for the remainder of the book. Later, when Celi has her moon ceremony after her first menstruation, Marco is included in the ceremony and also honored for coming of age in a powerful acknowledgement that navigating menstruation and being included in communities of support for people who menstruate is an important part of genderfluid lives as well. Engaging books about puberty and menstruation are already vanishingly rare, and Salazar’s tale is exceptional for the ways in which she challenges societal narratives surrounding menstruation, coming of age, and gender. The Moon Within is a beautiful and comforting story which can help preteens explore their feelings and fears about menstruation. In the author’s note, Salazar expresses a need to counter the negative, harmful way in which many communities, influenced by centuries of colonial oppression, treat the subjects of menstruation and gender-expansive people. She is resoundingly successful at pushing back and reclaiming a space where gender identity and menstruation can be discussed in multicultural contexts without shame.

The Moon Within. (2019). Aida Salazar. Arthur A. Levine Books. 190 pgs.

Jennifer Doll is a PhD Student in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota.

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