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.

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Early Review*: We Do! American Leaders Who Believe in Marriage Equality, Edited by Jennifer Baumgardner and Governor Madeleine M. Kunin

First off, let me put my cards on the table: I’m a member of the LBGTQ community, and I support equal rights for LGBTQ persons. Period.We Do!

We Do! doesn’t offer the jazziest format or a comprehensive tour through queer history, but it’s an excellent resource for speeches and essays relating to the LGBTQ-rights movement. As you might expect, Harvey Milk’s “Hope” speech is the first to appear, and you’ll also find testimony from well-known political figures, up to and including President Obama.

Glaring omissions on this front: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois).  Senator Murkowki’s press release on her change of heart (June 2013) especially merits inclusion. (Senator Rob Portman [R-Ohio] made the cut.) Marriage equality is coming, and the longer Republicans hold out, the worse they’ll look, and I’m sure Democrats will gleefully bash them for it. However, ending discrimination against LGBTQ persons should trump party hostility, and the more moderate (or even conservative; see Cheney, Dick) GOP politicians come forward to support LGBTQ rights, the better, especially since they face animus from the right flank of their own party.

But enough of politics (hasn’t it been a great two weeks here . . . UGH) Some high points of the book:

  • Transcriptions of speeches by Virgina Apuzzo and David Mixner: rousing, tragic, fundamental.
  • Andrew Sullivan’s prescience on the conservative case for gay marriage. He was way out front in 1989.
  • Personal testimony from LGBTQ legislators like Representative Bill Lippert.

I see this book as part of a growing awareness (in America) of LGBTQ history, which is *such* a positive development. Not everyone will run out to their bookstore to buy Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked a Revolution (though I wish it were so!), but a book like We Do! could be a gateway to more reading about the struggles the LGBTQ community has faced in this and past centuries.

Speaking of LGBT history, if you’re looking for another way to learn more, I suggest trying the Quist (Queer History smushed together) app for your phone. Daily tidbits of LGBTQ history, and it’s free. Full disclosure: My sister-in-law, Sarah Prager, created the app and owns it, and I (your humble blogger) edited it before its release.

We Do! American Leaders Who Believe in Marriage Equality will hit the shelves on Tuesday (October 15).

*I received this ARC through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.