Book Review: How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland – A Lyrical and Vulnerable Story about Complicated Families and a Celebration of Self-Love and the Beauty of the Universe

how moon fuentez fell in love with the universe raquel vasquez gilland
Synopsis:

When her twin sister reaches social media stardom, Moon Fuentez accepts her fate as the ugly, unwanted sister hidden in the background, destined to be nothing more than her sister’s camerawoman. But this summer, Moon also takes a job as the “merch girl” on a tour bus full of beautiful influencers and her fate begins to shift in the best way possible.

Most notable is her bunkmate and new nemesis, Santiago Phillips, who is grumpy, combative, and also the hottest guy Moon has ever seen.

Moon is certain she hates Santiago and that he hates her back. But as chance and destiny (and maybe, probably, close proximity) bring the two of them in each other’s perpetual paths, Moon starts to wonder if that’s really true. She even starts to question her destiny as the unnoticed, unloved wallflower she always thought she was.

Could this summer change Moon’s life as she knows it?

I was provided an eARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a masterpiece and it wrecked me, ruined me, destroyed me. Moon Fuentez understood me in a way that very few books ever have and, for that, it has now made a home in my heart forever. If Moon Fuentez was a person, I would want to cry and give her a big hug – and I imagine she would give me the most delightful, squishiest cuddle back.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe follows Moon Fuentez, a Mexican-American teen, artist and photographer, whose sister, Star, is a famous social media influencer. When Star is invited to an influencer tour across the country, Moon is pulled along and designated the ‘merch girl’. Unfortunately, Moon has to sell merch alongside the grumpy, combative, yet undeniably hot boy, Santiago. Unbeknownst to Moon, going on this tour will alter the trajectory of her life as she navigates her family, their secrets and curses, and what it means to love yourself.

Let’s first talk about the eponymous character of the story, Moon Fuentez. Moon is a Mexican-American teen who is an artist and photographer. However, for most of Moon’s life, her identity and who she is has always been defined by her sister, Star. While Moon is brown, fat, and has felt unwanted and unloved, Star took after their white father: light-skinned, blonde, lithe and thin, and also a famous Fotogram influencer with hundreds and thousands of followers, her brand all about religious purity.

I adored Moon Fuentez. By the end, I wanted to give her the whole world, presented to her while I’m on my knees, because she deserves it ten times over. Readers will love Moon for her wicked and delightful sense of humour (that had me giggling to myself so many times!) and her narrative where it feels like she’s speaking to you, a close friend sitting with her by the light of the night sky. What I loved is that we got to see Moon at her best – when she creates and comes alive through her art and her connection with nature, as well as her hilarious and dry comebacks – we also see Moon at her most low and vulnerable. In other words, we get a rich and intimate picture of Moon Fuentez; over the course of the book, we really get to know her and, I think, you won’t help but fall a little bit in love with her.

It’s important to note that Moon Fuentez isn’t what you would call a ‘wholesome’ and light-hearted book that is all sweetness and joy. Though there are such moments, Moon Fuentez also explores parental abuse, sexism, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and jealousy, and how family, religion and grief can thread through all of these together. Moon Fuentez delves into confronting truths and realities about how religion can be weaponised to police bodies and sexuality, and how ideals of purity can be harmful and farcical. Futhermore, Moon’s family’s curse, La Raíz (or ‘The Curse’), leads her to believe that her deviance from purity and piety is punished, adding another layer to how entangled Moon’s struggle with family and religion are.

The family relationships in Moon are complex and nuanced, and I liked how the story slowly unfurls, layer by layer, revealing slowly the depths of Moon’s complicated relationships with her sister and her mother. I appreciated how Moon’s self-love – and therefore her ability to be honest with herself and the inevitability of her relationship with her mother – ran parallel to our gradual understanding of her mother. Moon’s relationship with her sister is also complex. Though the twins are best friends, their relationship is complicated by Star’s fame, the pressure she feels to ‘perform’ and be at the center as an influencer, and also how Star is also a victim of their mother’s cruelty and favouritism. In this way, Moon Fuentez devastates slowly as we see the depth and nuance of Moon’s relationships with her mother and sister and how they are a barrier to Moon’s path of self-love.

There are some challenging and heartbreaking moments in Moon Fuentez, but there are just some books that have to lay bare the trauma in order for healing and softness to bloom in its aftermath. What I loved about the story was that it resists the idea that Moon is defined by the abuse she experiences. It doesn’t make light of her pain or trauma – rather, everything is handled with the gravity and weight it deserves – but I loved that the story centered on, as the title very much suggests, how Moon ultimately falls in love with the universe, how she grows to love herself, and how she breaks free from the shackles of people’s expectations of her. Moon Fuentez is ultimately Moon’s journey through a turning point in her life; her story is emotional, affirming, and tender despite all the hurts and pain along the way.

Evidently, there are many things that I loved about Moon Fuentez, but my review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the gorgeous hate-to-love romance between Moon and Santiago, her merch-vendor counterpart. Hate-to-love romances don’t really gel well with me, but the banter between Moon and Santiago was both delightful and so vulnerable. With Moon’s pervasive feelings of being unloved and unwanted and Santiago’s frustrations about how people treat him because of his physical disability (he is a hand amputee), the two come together for their mutual and deniable attraction for one another and their growing friendship but also pull away from each other. I loved the slow-burn of Moon and Santiago’s romance; throw in some shenanigans (like a raunchy photo accidentally sent to Santiago) and you have a romance that is wildly funny, gorgeous, and meaningful.

For everyone and anyone who reads Moon Fuentez, I think we will all agree that the writing is exquisite. Raquel’s poetry background shines brightly in the storytelling, giving Moon’s story a gorgeous lilt that effortlessly oscillates from light and funny to devastating, all in a page and all in the most lyrical way. Moon’s narrative is utterly captivating, and I felt myself pulled into the world as she saw it: an immense and miraculous place of beauty and wonder that also holds pain, hurt, and cruelty too. By the end of the book, I too felt like I had fallen in love with the universe.

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

I love a lot of books, but saying that I ‘love’ How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe doesn’t quite accurately describe how I feel about this book. Rather, Moon Fuentez unfurled me at the seams, tore my heart wide open and illuminated all its crevasses and shadows. How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is a spectacular; it will reignite your love for the world that we live in and the miracles all around us, and is effortlessly one of my favourite books of all time.

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A Mexican-American teen follows her famous sister on a social influencer tour across the country, wherein her life will change forever, including falling in love with her insufferable fellow merch seller.

Perfect for: Readers who like complex young adult contemporaries; readers who enjoy hate-to-love with plenty of banter; readers who love whimsical, lyrical and funny storytelling.

Think twice if: Readers not looking for a story that explores trauma.

Genre: young adult contemporary, with romance elements

Trigger/content warning: parental abuse (physical and verbal), bullying, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, sexism

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