Recommended Reading: If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan

Happy Thanksgiving, dear Readers! And Happy Thursday, non-American friends!

If You Could Be MineAs you may have noticed, YA fiction doesn’t make it onto my reading list very often, but in the spirit of omnivorous reading, I thought I should try out a new YA novel (a couple years ago I read The Hunger Games trilogy, which I quite liked). I chose Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Minebecause I’m interested in reading fiction set in other countries, and because the novel focuses on LBGT* issues (near and dear to my heart).

Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were children. Nasrin loves Sahar too, but also feels the pull of a traditional life trajectory — marriage, children, a house and social position. And they live in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death — even for teenagers like Sahar and Nasrin.

Then Nasrin’s family arranges a marriage for her, and Sahar, desperate to save their relationship, explores drastic measures to keep them together.

Sahar’s narration makes me want to give her a big hug, and I loved the careful construction of the secondary characters, especially Sahar’s father and Nasrin’s mother.  The language is geared toward younger readers, which I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the frank discussions of transsexuality that’s an integral part of the novel. I appreciated Sahar’s honesty and humanity, and the unflinching portrayal of how difficult life is for the gender-nonconforming in modern Iran.

And, of course, there’s plenty about the dangers of being a woman. You know, stuff like your sleeve inching past your elbow or wearing too much makeup getting you raped or beaten. Shudder.

Nasrin is often annoying, and doesn’t seem like a worthy object for Sahar’s affection, except insofar as she listens to Sahar attentively (as Sahar points out). At first, I felt that this was a flaw in the novel, because as a reader, I wanted to be invested in both girls. About midway through, however, Nasrin grew on me. She rebels against the strictures of her society in her own way, even if it’s not the way Sahar wants (or we want, for that matter). Nasrin’s flaws make the story more real, more relatable, and all the more heartbreaking for Sahar.

If You Could Be Mine would pair well with the first volume of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, especially in a teaching setting, and I think the pair together would make a great Christmas/Hannukah/Festivus/Yule/December present.