The Mirror Season is my second book by Anna-Marie McLemore even though I own all of their previous releases. This book made it very clear that McLemore’s writing is simply one of my favorites. Their writing is just pure magic! The Mirror Season had me hooked from its very first line: “When my bisabuela first came to this country, the most valuable thing she carried with her was something only she could see” (1). This is a story of survivors and learning to live in a body that doesn’t feel like yours anymore. The main character, Graciela Cristales, loses her confidence as a result of the assault and her journey centers around redefining who she is and living with the guilt of what happened.
The book follows Ciela’s perspective and the reader learns about the night of the assault through her. The unraveling of the narrative was amazing. We got bits and pieces which Ciela felt comfortable sharing with the reader. She was in control of the narrative, as a sexual assault survivor Ciela felt a loss of control over herself. Through the information she gives the reader she takes control of her story, signaling how SA survivors’ stories are theirs to share how they see fit. I enjoyed how information was revealed to us and so many things caught me by surprise.
Moreover, the layers of her story interweave with Lock’s story. Lock was at the same party as Ciela and their assaults happened simultaneously. They meet once school begins and form a friendship. The dynamic between Ciela and Lock was great and filled with humor. One of the most memorable moments was when Ciela brought a puppet named “Valentina” to cheer up Lock during their time in detention (73-74). Humor is used as another way of taking control of their story. The jokes between the characters is what moves forward their relationship. In an interview with the Write or Die podcast, AM McLemore mentioned how The Mirror Season has the most humor out of all their books because it is something SA survivors do. They do so to contrast the traumatic experiences they’ve survived and again as a way to show their autonomy. McLemore’s use of humor shows that even with traumatic experiences there are ways to rediscover the self and that is done with expressions of joy like humor.
Another aspect of Ciela’s journey means becoming La Bruja de los Pasteles once more. Ciela has a gift, inherited from her great-grandmother, which tells her what type of pan dulce someone needs or what pan dulce will soothe them. Losing herself causes Ciela to lose her ability to know about the needs of others. Her healing journey and the way back to her gift means finding herself. McLemore makes it clear with Ciela’s gift that caring for others and being there for them requires the ability to take care of the self first. Furthermore, Ciela’s gift is truly fascinating, and I’m looking to explore it more in an upcoming paper. Here’s an example of her magic in action as customers approach her bakery booth at a town festival:
Las magdalenas de maíz to a woman finishing chemotherapy, because she needs something mild to keep but with enough flavor to remind her she can still taste. Cuernitos de crema to a couple who found each other again forty years after meeting in high school (269).
Ciela’s magic has a healing quality to it which is reminiscent of curanderos. These are healers in Latin American who practice traditional medicine to treat various ailments, they can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual ailments. In the passage above Ciela aims to cure ailments with her abilities. She is attuned with whomever visits her booth and knows exactly what will soothe their being. Throughout the book the reader experiences her ability and how it is an essential part of her. Ciela’s magic is part of a familial tradition but it is but a small part of the connection she has with her family.
By the end of The Mirror Season, Ciela became one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. One of the things I loved most about her was the bond she had with her family. Family interactions in YA is something that I pay close attention to. A lack of family interaction makes the teenage character seem more adult and independent. This fictional emancipation rids the narrative of interactions with family members. Relations with families is an important aspect of identity formation since the family is part of people’s first social interactions. Ciela’s love for her family is found all over this narrative. They are in the stories she tells, her experiences, and as mentioned before in her magic. Throughout the novel, Ciela gives the reader many tidbits on her family and she seems to have a story fitting for many occasions. This is how her love for them comes through and it shows how a teen can have meaningful relationships with her family and be part of a novel. These relationships let the reader know of who Ciela is before the start of the narrative, it gives her a background story, and makes her a more well-rounded character. The Mirror Season depicts how these bonds have a place within YA. Ciela has not been emancipated, yet the journey is still hers.
Another topic McLemore explores is the way society sees and treats brown bodies. The author touches upon how brown bodies are so over-sexualized and seen as an open invitation when they are not. I found this extremely relatable, reminding me of my own experiences and how from a young age my body has been seen like that. Despite the over-sexualization Ciela is taught to love her body from a young age by the women in her family. She describes this experience in the following: “my mother is the one who told me my curvas were worth celebrating. Every day growing up, I came home to a family where hips and thighs meant health and beauty, and it saved me from thinking there was something immodest and shameful about my body” (105). Ciela’s experience with her body is something I also found relatable because it mirrored (I had to do it!) my own experience and journey with loving my body. I think it’s really important to encourage body acceptance from a young age. McLemore shows how we should celebrate bodies like Ciela’s and how doing so may have a big impact on self-esteem.
In The Mirror Season the reader is taken on Ciela’s journey of regaining her confidence, finding love, and living as a survivor. The novel uses magical realism and elements of “The Snow Queen” fairytale to present the reader with a raw exploration of being a sexual assault survivor. Her friendship with Lock showed how survivors are not alone and that humor can be a useful tool for finding joy. The story has so many aspects to it that I loved: the fairy tale elements, Ciela’s character, self-love/body acceptance, and the magic are just a few of them. The Mirror Season is going to be one of my top recommendations for a while!
McLemore, Anna-Marie. The Mirror Season. Feiwel & Friends, 2021.
Valladolid, Fabian. “Who Is a Curandero?” Curanderismo, www.asu.edu/courses/css335/page3.htm.