Wild Beauty: A Novel

Wild Beauty: A Novel

by Anna-Marie McLemore


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250180735
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 115,930
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and grew up in a Mexican-American family. She attended University of Southern California on a Trustee Scholarship. A Lambda Literary Fellow, she has had work featured by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, CRATE Literary Magazine’s cratelit, Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Series, and The Portland Review. She is the author of The Weight of Feathers, which was a Morris Award finalist, and When the Moon was Ours, a 2017 Stonewall Honor book.

Read an Excerpt


Later, they would blame what happened on the little wooden horses.

Estrella had found them when she was five, the set of them dust-frosted and forgotten on a high shelf. They had been small enough to fit in her hands, carved wooden wings sprouting from their painted backs.

No one could tell her where the little horses had first come from, or who they'd belonged to. Estrella took her mother's shrug as permission to keep them. She dusted them off, lined them up by colors, their wings rounded and splayed like stouter versions of a dragonfly's. At night, she counted them like sheep. She trotted them along her bedspread like the folds in her quilt were hills.

Now, eleven years later, they were more charms than toys. When she couldn't sleep, she ran her fingers along their wings like her grandmother did with her rosary beads. And tonight, she lay in the dark, turning each one in her hands, trying to ignore that hundreds of blue borraja flowers had sprouted from the ceiling of her bedroom.

Outside the door, she heard her cousins talking. Whatever they were whispering about was good enough to keep them awake; they were all worn down from work. Today they had finished bringing La Pradera into its spring bloom. The gardens were thick with lilies and irises. Morning glories covered the arbors. The blossoming trees floated their clouds of lilacs and mimosa.

There would be more work, of course. At La Pradera, there always was. Keeping up the bulb gardens, stopping the borders from overgrowing, filling in the flower beds. But it wouldn't be the same task they had each spring, forcing their fingers down into the hard earth, bringing the ground back to life after the cold months. Their hands were raw from it. They had called up new flowers so many times that the crescent moons of dirt under their nails seemed as much part of them as their skin.

Each spring felt like all of them, not just the gardens, coming back to life. They spent winters giving their flowers to ceramic pots they kept indoors, or pulling snowdrift roses out of patches of land soft enough to grow. But now all of La Pradera was theirs. They had every acre to let out the blooms that had been waiting in their hands all winter.

Estrella looked up at the ceiling, all those starflowers crawling over the rafters. Now that the season was coming on warmer, she had hoped she could wring herself out, give the ground all the flowers she had in her. But this still happened, borraja painting the space above her bed blue, no matter the season.

She left the little horses on her quilt and found her four cousins in the hall, all of them eyeing one of Azalea's ballet flats. Estrella couldn't tell why until she looked closer, and spotted the three letters Azalea had inked into the lining, where the writing would follow the lower curve of her anklebone.

Bay. Those three letters were as damning as a confession to a priest.

They all rushed into Azalea's room, Azalea calling protests after them. Now that they knew to look, they found the same three letters in her clothbound journals. In her books, as though they belonged not to her but to that name she had written on the fly leaves. On the pale inner satin of a velvet choker.

Then, there was no stopping them. They raided one another's rooms the same way their mothers checked for bottles of violet liqueur, or the dark-dyed lingerie they weren't supposed to have until they were older.

In Gloria's room, they found the creased photo she had pressed against the bottom of her middle drawer. The back looked sponge-painted in the lightest pink and coral of her lipsticks, the faint imprints of the hundred times Gloria had kissed the picture's backing.

The length of yew in Calla's closet told the same story. Bay, the girl those three letters and the face in that photograph belonged to, had been showing her how to carve her own bow. They had been sanding down the wood together, smoothing it in the last daylight hours before dinner.

Azalea eyed Estrella, willing her to be the next to confess.

Her glare reminded Estrella of the story neither of them had ever told. How Estrella had once kissed Bay under the flowering trees, how Azalea had seen it and, that night, gone after her like a lynx. Both of them had grabbed each other's hair until Gloria pulled them apart, demanding to know what this was about. They had traded stares, understanding that they would not tell the truth, instead piecing together some lie about a dress borrowed without permission.

Now Azalea looked ready to grab Estrella by the hair again. She must have assumed Estrella had grown out of that small, fierce love that made her kiss Bay under the mimosa trees. Estrella had thought the same thing about Azalea, that she was done with wanting Bay, or at least that she'd gotten distracted. She'd seen Azalea flirting with the young wives who grew bored at La Pradera's parties, their husbands talking of business they thought women couldn't understand.

But Azalea had been caught, and that stare was her way of telling Estrella that if she, too, didn't confess, Azalea would do it for her.

So Estrella opened her jewelry box to her cousins, showing them the collection of thick ribbons coiled together like a nest. They were each lengths of satin that had fallen from Bay's hair during La Pradera's summer parties and winter balls. When a ribbon slipped from the end of Bay's French braid without her noticing, Estrella lifted it from the flagstone courtyard before it got trampled.

Gloria's eyes slid upward, where the thick blanket of blue starflowers coated the ceiling. Her gaze made the rest of them follow.

Each five-pointed bloom was the deep, clear blue of a new night, the twists of vines flashing sea green between the flowers.

Dalia shook her head at Estrella, not in disappointment but in sympathy. Gloria gave her a small smile, gentle and sad, like Estrella was a child they were looking after. As though Estrella, not Calla, was the youngest Nomeolvides girl.

Calla, for her part, studied the flowers, asking if Estrella could remember what she might have been dreaming this time as blue stars opened over her bed.

"No," Estrella said, the same thing she said every time Calla asked.

Calla let out a disapproving hum, like a doctor being denied the satisfaction of making a diagnosis.

Azalea shuddered, the way she always did when Estrella grew a dark sky over her bed. Estrella didn't take it personally; Azalea had more superstition in her heart than she'd ever admit. It was the rest of them that worried Estrella, their concerned faces, like she was a child suffering night terrors. The rest of them drew flowers from the earth and over wooden arbors only when they wanted to.

Azalea drew her eyes away from the ceiling. She nodded at Estrella's jewelry box, those nests of ribbon, satisfied she didn't have to tell Estrella's secrets for her.

Dalia had been smart enough not to keep any evidence. But her cousins knew, as soon as they saw the color bloom in her cheeks. Dalia, too, had fallen a little in love with Bay Briar. With Bay's laugh, reckless as any boy's. With how she dressed like a character from one of Gloria's old novels. Satin trousers to the knee, cinched coat, ivory stockings. On anyone else, it would've been a costume. On Bay, it seemed as ordinary as her fine, straw-pale hair, as though she'd been born in a waistcoat.

All five Nomeolvides girls loved Bay Briar. They didn't just flirt with her to needle their mothers and grandmothers. They didn't just admire her as some ornament that moved through La Pradera's gardens. They didn't all harbor crushes on her just because she was there.

They had all fallen in love with her. With how she could beat her grandmother's friends at card games, stirring their roars of cigar-smoke laughter as she took their money. With how she swirled and sipped the red-black wine at La Pradera's parties. (Estrella and her cousins stole bottles and passed them around behind the hedges, seeing how fast the wine could make them feel warm.)

It took only a few minutes standing in the unlit hall for them all to realize what this meant, the love held between them for a girl named Bay Briar.

For as long as anyone had memory, longer than the Nomeolvides women had been at La Pradera, each generation had borne five daughters. Only daughters, always five, like the petals on a forget-me-not. And ever since La Pradera had gotten its hold on them, sure and hard as a killing frost, every generation of five daughters had been trapped in these gardens, like their hearts were buried in the earth.

But Estrella and her cousins couldn't have five daughters if they were all in love with the same woman.

If they all loved Bay Briar, if they were too lovesick over her to sleep with men, their wombs would stay empty as their hearts were full.

They could be the last generation of Nomeolvides girls. The last ones bound together like forget-me-not petals. The last ones who could not leave La Pradera unless they wanted to die, spraying their pillowcases with bitter pollen they coughed up from their lungs as though it were blood.

The last to see their lovers disappear.

Then dread passed between them.

Nothing good came from the love of Nomeolvides women.

Five years ago, Calla's father had vanished. Before him, the traveling salesman who'd stayed at La Pradera longer than he'd stayed anywhere in a decade, all because he'd fallen in love with Abuela Flor's bright laugh. And before him, a man who collected old maps, and who became more of a father to Gloria than the man who'd given her half her blood.

If the love of one woman in this family was enough to make her lover disappear, what would the obsession of five Nomeolvides girls do to Bay?

"No," all five of them said at once, quiet as whispers, at the thought of Bay vanishing under the weight of their love. Not Bay, who visited the stone house where they all lived by ringing the doorbell, bowing, and announcing herself as the Briar bastard, at your service. Bay, whose mother had left her husband for Bay's father but had not bothered to take Bay with her. Bay, whose heart always stayed a little bit broken no matter how often her grandmother told her Bay Briar, being rid of the two of them was the best thing that ever happened to you.

And now, with her grandmother in the ground almost a year, the Nomeolvides women gathered around Bay like she was some fragile egg. Estrella's mother and her cousins' mothers brought Bay to their table at meal times, expecting her there as much as their own daughters. When Bay was sick, their grandmothers took bowls of blue corn pozole up the hill to the brick house Bay now slept in alone. They set cold cloths under her neck, changed her sheets when her fever soaked them through.

Estrella and her cousins saw the brittle sorrow, the grief drifting off Bay like a mist, and they all wanted to set their lips against her forehead to warm her.

They could not let their hearts destroy this girl they had all secretly loved.

Then Gloria had the idea for the offerings. She whispered into the space between them. "Why don't we ask it" — here she looked at the floorboards under their feet, as though staring into the ground below the house's foundation — "to protect her?"

The tilting of their heads turned to slow nods, all of them drawing closer to this hope.

The only thing stronger than the curse of their blood was La Pradera, this flowering world that possessed the Nomeolvides women so deeply it killed them if they tried to leave it. If they did not want Bay vanishing, they needed La Pradera to guard her. From them. If anything could save Bay, it was the force and will of this place. Bay had grown up here the same as they had. This land must have fallen in love with her light footsteps and loud laugh, too. So they would beg La Pradera to give Bay its charm against the venom of their hearts.

In return, they gave the ground everything else they loved. Not just the photo at the back of Gloria's drawer, or the ribbons Estrella had collected. They took down lockets they admired so much they hung them on walls instead of keeping them in boxes. They gathered copper-backed hand mirrors and tins of apricots they'd sugared on Easter Sunday.

Gloria volunteered her best earrings, the color of champagne, bubbles embedded in the small globes, and her favorite apron — the ruffles in every shade of purple, from lilac to blackberry. She had worn it so many times to candy rose petals that even after she washed it, it smelled sweet as meringue.

Dalia chose the best perfume from her collection, a heavy bottle that held the scent of lavender and dry wood and bergamot oranges. Then, the fondant rose Bay's grandmother had saved for her off a princess cake from a summer party. She had kept it under a drinking glass so it wouldn't gather dust, and it had stayed as perfect as when it had topped the cake's green fondant.

Azalea gave up the spoon she ate dessert with every night, the pewter handle ending in a spiral like the curled tip of a fiddlehead fern. Then she surrendered her favorite candles, the wax as bright pink and red as the flowers she grew.

Calla offered the candy hearts she'd saved over the years, the big kind they carried at the shop in town. She'd collected ones with single words etched into the sugar. Dream. Honey. True. Next, she tore down the tissue paper flowers that hung on fishing line in her room; she had saved them from being thrown out after a spring ball.

Estrella parted with her favorite dress, the sheer layers of the skirt ending in points like the petals of starflowers. From her collection of carved horse figurines, wooden and winged, she chose her favorite, one with just enough color left to show the indigo it had been painted.

They scattered Gloria's earrings and Calla's candy hearts. They poured Dalia's perfume onto the flower beds. Into the thick hedges, they tucked her fondant rose and Calla's paper flowers. Azalea buried the pewter spoon, and Estrella planted the little indigo horse deep in the ground like a bulb.

Then they gathered at La Pradera's lowest point, a dark pond at the center of the sunken garden.

Gloria's apron and Estrella's dress floated in the water for so long the cousins all shivered, the ruffles waving as though they felt the loss of the girls who'd once worn them. Azalea lit each of her candles before throwing them in, the flames flickering before they went out.

Later, they would all swear they had seen something bright in that water. A few trails of light swirling around the things they gave. A glow buoying up the apron and dress. An echoing of the candles Azalea lit and then let go.

It was this that let them sleep that night, this sign that La Pradera had heard them.


When he realized he had hands, and a body, he crossed himself. Even before he could open his eyes, he lifted his fingers to his forehead and prayed the words. En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.

He could not remember when he had last had hands and a body, so thanking God for them seemed the thing to do if he didn't want to lose them again. I exist. I thank God for my existence.

It was too cold to be el Cielo. If he was with God in Heaven, why would he feel so cold? He wondered if he was in el Purgatorio, the place he would pay for his sins.

But the air. The air smelled too sweet for this to be Purgatory, like the sugar of fruit and the green of trees. These scents came to him as familiar, but he didn't know why.

He could not remember dying. He could not remember where he had been before this either.

A damp chill soaked his back, and under his fingers he felt the wet brush of grass. He opened his eyes to columns of white sunlight. Those fingers of sun spread out over a world that looked like a single garden but stretched as wide as a valley. They cut through a gray mist turning a little blue at the edges.

Everything else was color. Trees rose toward the sky, letting the pale sun through their branches. Vines crawled up the walls of the valley. The grass was so bright it looked polished. The flowers stood sharp against the green valley and the blue-gray morning. They grew in pink and orange and violet. It was vivid and beautiful enough that it hurt him to look at it, and again, he wondered if maybe this was el Cielo.

A figure floated through the light so slowly he did not flinch or startle. The blurring of mist and sun fell away, and he saw her, a dark-haired girl in a green dress, the mist collecting into drops on her hair. The brown of her shoulders looked familiar, not because he knew her but because the color felt like something that was his, too.

He looked down at his own hands and forearms, remembering this body he once had and now had again. He and this girl were not the same brown but close, like the bark of two different trees in this garden.


Excerpted from "Wild Beauty"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Anna-Marie McLemore.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Wild Beauty 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
CaptainsQuarters 28 days ago
Ahoy there me mateys! I absolutely loved the author’s book when the moon was ours and so knew I had to read another of her works. I picked this one based on the pretty flowers on the cover. I fell in love yet again with this author’s talent, characters, and world. This story follows the Nomeolvides cousins who live on the grounds of the La Pradera estate. Three generations of their family maintain the beautiful gardens that make the property famous. There is a problem – all of the women are cursed and La Pradera is both a gift and a prison. Ye see the Nomeolvides are known as witches for the magic that allows them to call flowers to bloom. Each generation consists of 5 women and all possess the ability. Persecuted for this magic, the women were nomads and fled from place to place until they landed at the manor. In exchange for causing the barren land to bloom, they could stay. But in growing the garden, the land itself decided none of them could leave. If that’s not bad enough, the cost of having magic means all of the Nomeolvides women are doomed to have broken hearts. Lovers leave or literally vanish into thin air. The youngest generation is hoping to break the curse and have the ability to explore the greater world. Despite all evidence to the contrary. So the five girls make an offering to the garden. In exchange, they unexpectedly get a boy who appears right out of the ground . . . The most stirring part of this book is the emphasis on family. I loved every single member of the latest generation of Nomeolvides women. It is a complexly woven series of relationships. There is emphasis on food, love, and family history. The sheer imagery of the flowers and how they were woven throughout both the family and the novel was just amazingly beautiful. In addition, I loved all the forms love takes in the story. There are the mother-daughter relationships, the varied responses to the mystery boy, the relationship between the cousins, and the relationships between the girls and their friend and landlord Bay. There are bisexual, heterosexual, and a lovely genderqueer character. There is family trauma and rivalry and watching people grow and change. There is beauty. I am so very glad I read this book. Arrrrr!
bayy245 More than 1 year ago
I'm blown away as always by Anna-Marie McLemore's books. There's casual mentions of periods, people all over the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and the best magical realism around. I love the spanish language and latino culture throughout her books. I always love the family dynamics and traditions we get to see. Her genderqueer or trans characters are always extra special to me and I love knowing her husband helps with those parts of the books. Her stories are always full of strong women and huge, tight-knit families. The love stories are always lush and romantic. I'm always surprised by the different ways she infuses magic in the worlds. I never see them coming and yet they feel like it's something that should've always been in our world. The life lessons and hard truths are interwoven into these magical worlds and teach both the characters and the reader. There's always fantastic personal growth from the characters and I love looking at who they are at the end of the novel versus the beginning. *Thank you to Netgalley for the review copy*
AReadingRedSox More than 1 year ago
Yet another amazing and stunning novel from Anna-Marie McLemore. WILD BEAUTY is as rich as it is imaginative, and I loved every moment of it. The characters and the setting are both so, so interesting and lovely, and the explorations of family and love are beautifully interwoven with the mystery surrounding La Pradera. Check out more great book reviews on my blog, A Reading Red Sox, here: http://areadingredsox.blogspot.com/
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Teen Estrella Nomeolvides and her cousins live on the beautiful Californian garden property, La Pradera, for generations. Known as "las hijas del aire", they are bound to the land, forming beautiful flowers that create breathtaking gardens, but the gift is a curse: every man loved by a Nomeolvides woman disappears. Just... dissipates. The cousins are all in love with the same woman, Bay Briar, and pray to the gardens to keep her safe from vanishing; instead, a young man they call Fel appears, thrust forth by the garden. Fel has choppy memories of his past, and Estrella takes it on herself to help him recover his memories. What none of them realize is that Fel's memories - Fel's past - is inextricably linked to the ugly truth behind a Pradera. There is a lot going on in Wild Beauty. There are several subplots that intertwine with the main story, all moving toward the revelations at the end. Beautifully written, with fully realized characters, Wild Beauty can be confusing - there were characters and subplots that took me a few re-reads to fully get my head straight - and the story tends to meander, which may frustrate some readers. Readers familiar with magical realism will recognize this and press on. There's beautiful imagery, gender identity and fluid sexuality, and a respect for Latinx heroines and matriarchal family structures. Wild Beauty has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Bust Magazine has a great write-up on the book and the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Delicious prose - utterly bewitching - I loved every page of this! Her writing is just incredible, you sink into her worlds and it's such an experience!
taramichelle More than 1 year ago
Wild Beauty was one of the rare books where I absolutely adored the writing but ultimately failed to love the book itself due to the pacing. The writing is beautiful, lyrical, and magical, similar to Laini Taylor’s or Roshani Chokshi’s writing. As a reader, you’ll savor each sentence, amazed at how vividly Anna-Marie McLemore conjures up the world of La Pradera. She captures the spirit of the gardens and the emotions of the Nomeolvides women perfectly. My enjoyment of the beauty of the writing is what kept me reading for most of the novel. There were other parts of Wild Beauty that I adored and that the author handled beautifully. This novel has a focus on the importance of family and heritage. The LGBTQ representation was incredibly well done. There’s some wonderful diversity. It deals with racism, sexism, and bias. It’s about learning to accept yourself for who you are. It’s about learning to love and to conquer your fears. Wild Beauty is one of the most feminist novels I’ve read lately. I would have absolutely adored it if the plot hadn’t been so slow. The pacing of the plot was the one main negative of this book for me. Everything progressed at a snail’s pace until the ending. I actually ended up putting this one down a few times because the pacing just was too slow for me. However, the ending seamlessly combines the lyrical writing that permeates the book with some faster-paced action. If there rest of the book had been similar to the ending, it would have been a five-star read for me. Wild Beauty is a beautifully written book that will immerse you in the world of the Nomeolvides women. You’ll fall in love with them and your heart will break for them. This story will stay with you long after you turn the final page. I would recommend this one to readers who don’t mind a slow-paced book. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
book_junkee More than 1 year ago
I will read anything Anna-Marie creates. I don’t even need to read the synopsis. I loved Estrella and her cousins. I loved how different and the same they were. I loved their fierceness and loyalty and their absolute need to break out and do something different. There’s just something so special about the worlds that Anna-Marie creates. They’re magical, but not so crazy and far fetched that you can’t help but wonder if they’re real. But most importantly, she creates a sense of family wrapped up in the most gorgeous prose and lush, lyrical words. I will read her words forever. **Huge thanks to Feiwel and Friends for providing the arc free of charge**
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very boring book. I couldn't get into it even though I tried.