Title: If You Could Be Mine
Author: Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: August 20th, 2013
Literary Awards: American Library Association Rainbow List Top 10 (2014) and YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2014)
Format: Library Copy
Genre: YA; Contemporary; LGBT
Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.
So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.
Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?
My Thoughts and Reflection:
When I first read the blurb of this book, I was completely intrigued. After reading a couple of pages, I was completely engrossed. I ended up finishing this book in one day. If it weren't for school, I probably would have finished it in one sitting.
I tried describing this book to my father. I didn't go with the obvious thing, and just reword the blurb for him. I really thought about it, and came to the conclusion that above all the heartbreak, character development, and culture knowledge I gained through reading this book, the most important thing is that this book is progressive. Keep that in mind.
I have personally never been to Iran. I don't know that much about it either. I have studied the Middle East and Islam in school, and I suppose Iran shows up in the news, but that is the extent to which I can say that I knew about Iran before this book. After reading this book, I have found that I am a lot more informed about the culture, laws, social expectations in Iran. It's not often that I learn so much from a book! My favorite part about learning as I read was that our protagonist Sahar was not telling us the rules. It all came up in dialogue, or my favorite, when she was reflecting on something to herself. It became apparent quite early on that Sahar had opinions on a lot of different laws in Iran. I am impressed with the talent that debut author Sara Farizan has revealed.
Sara Farizan opens up the story in the beginning, which is the proper place to start, I suppose. The reader is introduced to our protagonist Sahar and her best friend Nasrin, as children. I think that showing characters as children is a very smart move by any author. Childhood is the root to what people become later. It reveals begins of troubles, the loss of innocence, and provides a backstory that is often necessary to truly grasp each character as a whole. In this story, this childhood setup gives the reader the knowledge of the intense and deep relationship that Sahar and Nasrin have.
After the initial setup, our conflict is introduced. Nasrin has become engaged! Sahar is overcome with shock and betrayal. The courtship had occurred in secret for weeks; Nasrin had not divulged a single detail. Sahar is blindsided, and ignorant with love. She is willing to do anything to keep Nasrin.
Parallell to the drama with Nasrin's engagement, Sahar's cousin Ali introduces her into this different world in Iran. A world with people of Western ideas, where homosexuality and being transgender is totally acceptable. Sahar is not exactly appalled at first, because she is in no denial of the homosexual thoughts and actions that have occurred. She is most curious about the transgendered.
In Iran, gender reassignment is seen as a solution to nature's mistake. It is not only completely legal, but the procedures are funded by the government. (That's really cool!!!) Sahar becomes friends with someone that Ali knows, named Paraveen. Paraveen is a gorgeous, kind, sucsesfull, confident, transgender girl. Sahar is shocked to learn that Paraveen was once a man.
Despite the painful details of the procedure and social drama that Paraveen shares with Sahar, (being transgender is legal in Iran but not always socially accepted), Sahar is convinced that this is the solution to being with Nasrin. Paraveen helps Sahar on her journey of sexual discovery.
I almost consider Paraveen to be the fairy godmother in this story. Paraveen is wiser and more experienced than Sahar, but she also lets Sahar make her own mistakes. Paraveen is never able to fully fix things for Sahar, but Sahar helps Paraveen to. As the story progressed their friendship became more equalized; Paraveen becoming less of a mentor and more of a friend. My favorite part about Paraveen as a character is that she was not perfect. She had been through hell and back, and had the marks to prove it. Even with all of her gorgeousness, she had flaws too. I think that it's interesting that her hands remained "mannish", although it sort of makes sense. Reconstructive surgery on hands would seem tedious and frivolous after everything else that Paraveen went through.
Ali remains almost the fool of the story. He makes obvious mistakes, but always seems to have fun. He leads this glamorous life, that Sahar comes to realize is actually not so glamorous.
Ali symbolizes a lot of the social rebellion in this story, and most importantly he teaches Sahar a lot.
Sahar's family life and economic standing come into play a lot in this book. The reader learns early on that Sahar's mother is dead, and she only lives with her father (although Ali is a frequent visitor in the home). Sahar's mother's death has caused a major change in Sahar's father. He suffers from absent parent syndrome, and I don't mean that in the way that a lot of YA books are being criticized (where the parents have some vague excused absence for the entirety or majority of the book), I mean in the way that Sahar's father is depressed, and in turn ignoring her. This is all something that Sahar acknowledges, and she certainly thinks about it quite a lot.
I was sad to see Sahar go through all of this pain with Nasrin; unable to confide in her father. Granted, even if he had been more doting, she probably wouldn't have told him considering that her actions and feelings are illegal, but Sahar does wish that he even noticed that something was wrong.
Nasrin's family is richer than Sahar's. Sahar's father builds furniture, but hasn't been doing as many pieces since her mother's death, and what he does do is not his best workmanship. This social difference is just another thing that drives a nail between Nasrin and Sahar.
This book is focused around a romance. I'm sure that we've all read books where we're cringing about the love interest. Either they are actually a terrible person, or they are clingy, or fake, or have some other undesirable quality. As a person, I absolutely couldn't stand Nasrin. She was ignorant, shallow, fake, and obsessed with social appearance. All of these qualities are things that Sahar was oblivious to at first, however after the engagement was announced, the seems began to show. It was really Nasrin's selfishness that was the most painful to read. Sahar was willing to do anything and endure anything to be with Nasrin, while Nasrin didn't see any of that, or if she did, she didn't care. She treated Sahar as this little toy to keep her entertained as children.
As the reader, there is a lot of wondering about why Sahar would ever stay so infatuated with Nasrin, but she admits it herself in the book. Something along the lines of "Nasrin was the one that listened, especially after [mother] died".
I was proud of Sahar in the end. She became her own independent person for the first time, and while there was a lot of pain along the way, the reader knows that some day in the future she ail be grateful for the layering that the entire experience allowed.
Yes, the ending was sad, but it wasn't unsatisfying. The story was wrapped up, but allowed hope for the characters in the future. That is what I look for in an ending; a conclusion, with room for the reader to imagine the lives of the characters later.
I would definitely recommend If You Could Be Mine. It was spunky, real, and thought provoking. I am curious about what sort of topics Sara Farizan could tackle in the future.
Dust Jacket Ramblings:
I love this cover! I think that the hands embody Sahar and Nasrin's relationship. I also like how both the hands are drawn delicately, so it is obvious that they are girls hands. I also like how only one hand has the painted nails, (obviously our resident slave-to-fasion Nasrin). The flowery design at the bottom and top keep the cover interesting without being overly busy.
In Other News:
It's the beginning of the week, I'm already tired, and need to get some more reading done! I picked up Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger today at the library. My English teacher recommended that I read "For Esmé––with Love and Squalor". I'm really curious. I haven't read that many short stories, and I have no clue what it's about. My teacher just thought that I'd enjoy the writing, so I said ok! Let's see how it goes!