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One of Rolling Stone’s “40 Best YA Novels”
A winner of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children’s/YA
A 2014 ALA Rainbow List Top 10 Title
A Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth 2013
One of Rolling Stone’s “40 Best YA Novels”
A winner of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children’s/YA
A 2014 ALA Rainbow List Top 10 Title
A Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth 2013
Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best for Teens 2014 List
Winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction
A Los Angeles Times Summer Reading Guide Pick
One of Book Riot's 10 Rad Female Authors to Read
In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.
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 had before, 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?
Winner of the 2014 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction (Triangle Awards)
Winner of the 2014 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction (Triangle Awards)
“Farizan’s prose is frank, funny and bittersweet, enjoyable . . . And her secondary storylines ring out memorably.” --The New York Times Book Review
“This beautifully crafted young-adult novel offers timely insight into the struggles of those who must be their authentic selves no matter where they live.” --Ms. Magazine
“Sharp and moving . . . An interesting look at gender identity and gay culture in Iran . . . Also a compelling story about class and the purpose of marriage.” --The Boston Globe
"[A] terrific debut novel . . . Rich with details of life in contemporary Iran, this is a GLBTQ story that we haven't seen before in YA fiction. Highly recommended." --School Library Journal
"Accomplished and compassionate . . . A groundbreaking, powerful depiction of gay and transsexual life in Iran . . . An intimate look at life in modern-day Iran and its surprising Westernization, even though much of this culture is clandestine." --Booklist, starred review
“[A] provocative coming-of-age story . . . Throughout this strong debut, Farizan weaves in details of daily Iranian life . . . Within a rigid societal structure, her fleshed-out characters wrestle with depression, hope, complacency, and risk.” --Publishers Weekly
“A convincing portrait of everyday life in post-revolutionary Iranian society . . . While Farizan deals with LGBT issues in this book, she also is writing about the choices all young adults must face. Sahar must find her place in her family, decide which career to follow, and figure out how to let go of a first love--universal themes in all cultures.” --Durham Herald-Sun
“Listeners will gain insight into life as a gay young woman in an unaccepting world, and Sahar’s desperation to be with the one she loves is a story with which all can empathize.”
Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn't want to play with her dolls. I wanted to play football with the neighborhood boys. Even though sometimes they wouldn't let me because I was a girl, they couldn't deny my speed or the fact that I scored a goal on the biggest kid in the yard. Nasrin pulled my hair and said, "Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me." That was when I fell in love with her.
We were six. We didn't wear head scarves then. We were little girls, not "whores of Babylon," to be met by the scrutinizing eye of any asshole with a beard. Nasrin has the longest, darkest hair but it never gets tangled or neglected under her roosari like mine does. I always think there's no point in making my hair look decent if I have to cover it in school, but Nasrin is always taming her locks—blow drying, using mousse, a flat iron sometimes. No matter what she does to her hair, she will always be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
It's difficult, hiding my feelings for her. Tehran isn't exactly safe for two girls in love with each other. I wonder if people can tell I love her when I look at her—in the park, at the bazaar shopping for bras, everywhere. How can I not stare? Even at age six, I wanted to marry her. I told my mother when I came home after playing with Nasrin, who lived a few houses down from our apartment. Maman smiled and said I couldn't marry Nasrin because it was haraam, a sin, but we could always be best friends. Maman told me not to talk again about wanting to marry Nasrin, but it was all I thought about.
I thought about marrying her when we were ten and Nasrin cried that I got my period before she did. I thought about marrying Nasrin when she taught me how to put on eye-liner when we were both thirteen. I thought about marrying Nasrin when we finally kissed, on the mouth, like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere did in Pretty Woman. It's a stupid movie, but Nasrin always makes me watch it with her. We got the DVD from my older cousin, Ali. He's in university and knows everything cool but gets awful grades. I don't like that the movie is dubbed; the voices never match the actor's lips. And Julia Roberts has big lips. She could fit a whole kabob barg in her mouth if she wanted to. It was three months ago that Nasrin and I kissed. Even though I'm seventeen now, it made me feel like I was six again and she was pulling my hair.
We are always around each other, so I don't think anyone will suspect that Nasrin and I are in love. She worries, though, all the time. I tell her no one will know, that I will protect her, but when we kiss I can feel her tense. She keeps thinking about the two boys who were hung years ago in Mashhad. They were hung after being accused of raping a thirteen-year-old boy, but most people think the two were lovers who got caught. I remember the video of the hanging my cousin Ali downloaded for me. I don't know how Ali gets away with the things he does, and would never ask, either. When I saw the video, I wasn't scared, but I got angry. They were so young, just sixteen and eighteen, blindfolded, standing next to each other in the square with nooses around their necks. I felt my neck itch as they were slowly raised on cranes. Whatever crime they committed, I didn't want a part of it. I wanted to stop loving Nasrin, but how do you stop doing something you know you are supposed to do?
Nasrin keeps telling me, "We aren't gay, we are just in love." I've never even thought about being gay; all I know is I love Nasrin more than anyone. Nasrin always used to giggle with the neighborhood girls about boys, but I never joined in. Why should I care if Hassan grew a mustache that looked like a baby caterpillar? It wasn't going to change the fact that I am in love with my best friend. It wasn't going to make my baba stop crying, wishing that my maman didn't die all those years ago. It wasn't going to change the fact that I had to teach myself to cook meals, and my khoreshts will never be as good as Maman's, even though Baba says they are delicious. I miss her sometimes, but these days I just resent her for not being here.
I've gotten used to Baba's long periods of silence. Sometimes he won't speak for two days, but when he comes out of whatever trance he's in, he is in a good mood and pretends nothing happened. I'm no doctor, but I think he is depressed. I wish he would snap out of it.
Nasrin is in my room, painting her fingernails while I pretend to do my science homework. I've been studying a lot for the Concours, which determines which university you get to go to and in what field. About one and a half million students take the exam every year in June, and only 150,000 get acceptable scores. Your performance on the exam is all that matters. Your grade-point average is meaningless, which Nasrin always reminds me when I get a less than perfect score on an Islamic Studies quiz. It's September now and I already feel anxious. I want to go to Tehran University to study medicine, which is just about every student's dream, but I think I actually have a chance. Nasrin on the other hand ...
"You're staring again," Nasrin says. She looks up from her nails and gives me a smile. I look down at my textbook and hope my face isn't red, like all the other times Nasrin catches me watching her.
"Don't you have homework?" I ask.
Nasrin just blows on her nails and rolls her eyes. "I'm not a genius like you, Sahar. I'm going to move to India and be a Bollywood actress." She stands up and goes into one of her Indian dance routines. Nasrin is an excellent dancer and gets a group of girls together from her school to practice. They usually have me film them while they dance Persian, Arabic, or whatever other dance routines they have been working on. My favorite was when they did the Ne-Yo dance. Black American singers sound better than anything, though I fear saying that in front of Nasrin because she loves her Persian pop so much.
If she spent as much time on her studies as she did her dancing, maybe we could end up at the same university, but I know that isn't going to happen. Now that we are getting older, we have only a few more years left like this together. Things will change. Nasrin will have a lot of suitors. The men will line up on her block. All of the well-to-do in Tehran will come to her family's house, dressed in their best suits.
The suitors will have tea with Nasrin's parents, and they will explain that they can provide her a good life with whatever important and boring job they have. Her parents will pick the best man for her, meaning the one with the most money. Nasrin comes from a good family, and they have money themselves, so she will marry the best that there is. I am not the best. I am an awkward girl with breasts so big that sometimes I feel I might tip over. I don't know when I am going to lose her, but it's going to happen, and I don't know if I will be able to handle it.
Nasrin finishes her dance, and her face falls when she sees mine.
"What's wrong, Sahar joon?" she says. She's always been able to read me, even when she doesn't want to.
"I wish we could stay in this room forever," I say. She grins.
"Wouldn't you miss fresh air? The sun on your face?"
"The morality police complaining that your head scarf isn't on properly?" I always go by the rules, but Nasrin couldn't care less. She's always pushing the boundaries, with most of her hair showing at all times and a little scarf flopped over the end of her ponytail. Nasrin sits down next to me and takes my hand.
"We can't live in here forever. There's never anything to eat in your room, anyway." We both laugh, and she plays with my hair.
"I want to marry you," I say, and Nasrin looks at me with a sad expression that makes me feel helpless and pathetic.
"I know you do, azizam. We've talked about this,"
"We could run away!" I beg of her. I'd go wherever she wanted.
"We would get as far as Karaj and then what? Sahar, be serious."
I'm not as well off as Nasrin's family, so I couldn't provide for her, or even buy her a bus ticket to Turkey. When I'm a rich doctor, I'll buy her all the things she has grown accustomed to. Maybe until then I'll just lock her up in a shack in a village so no man will ever have her. I'll have sheep guard her, bleating at whoever approaches. Knowing Nasrin, she will probably be choreographing dance numbers with the sheep and putting a video of it on the Web.
"I'll find a way for us to be together." I look her in the eye to let her know I mean it.
She bites her lower lip, as she's done since she was little, and gently pulls at my hair. "We're together now, Sahar. Let's not waste time on what can't be."
What can't be ... Sometimes I get so angry I want to take off my roosari and run into the streets like a madwoman, my hair flying behind me, waiting for Nasrin to pull at it. I see how Ali is with his boyfriends—they're very sweet together, but they are always hiding. Ali is perpetually dating someone new, but he treats the men like they are toys that he is eventually going to grow tired of. Ali introduces his gentlemen to me as his boyfriends, but usually the boyfriends look nervous and laugh like Ali is crazy. They say they are in Ali's class, but I know Ali has never cared much about schoolwork, and I'm pretty sure Ali is planning on studying anatomy when they come over. He's an engineering major.
I haven't told Ali about Nasrin and me. Though Ali told me he was gay, we never really discuss it. I remember Maman telling me not to talk about it. So I don't. Ali, though, he treats it like it isn't a big deal when he's with me, which I don't understand. In public everything is secret, of course. I don't even know where he finds his boyfriends. A part of me doesn't want to know. I don't want to know what would happen if Ali got caught. It would kill my aunt and uncle in Tabriz, who send Ali lots of money for his "school" when Ali lounges about, smoking shisha and playing backgammon. There are things I don't understand about Ali, but I like that he didn't look at me with sad eyes when my mother died. He treated me like he always had, nudging me with his hip and giving me a wink.
I think about telling Ali about Nasrin because it's getting so difficult not to talk about how I feel. I want to shout how much I love her to anyone who will listen, but sometimes I feel stupid even saying "I love you" to Nasrin. I know she loves me, but once in a while I can't believe she could feel that way about me. I think that she just might not want to hurt my feelings.
"Maybe when I get into university we can get an apartment," I say, and Nasrin raises one eyebrow. I know. It was a stupid idea.
"You think my parents are going to let me move out of their house? Before I'm married?"
"You'd be living with me. I would keep the boys away," I say with a grin. She leans in closer to me. Her perfume smells like jasmine and vanilla. She's so cruel. I could die from it. Her mouth is close to my ear, and I think she knows how deliciously evil she's being.
"If my parents knew what a devil you are, they'd lock me in Evin Prison for lust." She says it with levity and I smile, but it very well could be a reality. Though I can't imagine Nasrin's parents putting her in any danger. They have spoiled her since birth because she is the baby of the family, with two older brothers. Her parents have always been very sweet to me, but I worry they are nice to me so I will marry Dariush, Nasrin's oldest brother. A family like Nasrin's would typically seek out other wealthy families to marry into, but Dariush doesn't have many prospects. He was suicidal a few years ago over a girl who wouldn't marry him. The girl's father said Dariush wasn't good enough for her because he's a mechanic. Nasrin's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mehdi, have not produced children who have met their expectations.
Mr. Mehdi is a prominent exporter of pistachios to foreign countries and it is fair to say that he is nuts about nuts. His wife comes from oil money generated during the Shah's time, though they will never admit it. They were hoping their children would be captains of industry or cancer-curing doctors. But their children had everything handed to them—happy birthdays, nice clothes, and the latest toys—so they had no incentive to try at anything.
Cyrus, the middle one, is hoping to take over his father's business and isn't lazy, but he isn't very bright. Dariush is a free spirit, more interested in learning how to play Cat Stevens songs on his guitar than making a living. Nasrin's only goal in recent years has been to acquire as many shoes as possible.
To Mr. and Mrs. Mehdi, I am the dream child they always wanted and also the example they set for their children. I study hard, I take care of my father, I cook and clean. I'm polite when Nasrin is sometimes too cavalier. When they compare Nasrin and me it isn't fair, and sometimes I think Nasrin resents me for it. We don't ever discuss it. If they knew about the relationship Nasrin and I have, I don't know if they would be more disappointed with me or their own daughter.
I tuck a strand of hair behind Nasrin's ear. She smiles and kisses my nose. I hate when she does that. She knows I do, she's just being tough on me today for all of my wishful thinking. I wonder whether Nasrin would be open about us if we didn't live in Iran. She might be just as scared but for different reasons. She's always been the loud one, but she's scared of stupid things. Things like spiders, the dentist, or not having the latest jacket. She squeezes my hand when she's scared, and lately my hand feels like it is going through early arthritis.
I lean in and kiss Nasrin on her lips. She returns the kiss with urgency, and I definitely know that no man or woman can ever make me feel the way she does. If that makes me gay, so be it.
Sometimes when Nasrin and I kiss, Ayatollah Khomeini's and Ayatollah Khamenei's faces pop into my head. When I was little, I used to think they were the same person, because their names sound the same, they wear the same outfit—a cleric's robe and a turban—and both with long gray beards. Khomeini, now deceased, became the Supreme Leader after the revolution. I hadn't even been born then, but apparently Iran was a lot different. There was a king and girls could wear miniskirts, which is all Nasrin cares to know about that era because it sounds glamorous. In school, they teach us that Khomeini brought justice and the will of God to the people and how much better the country is flourishing than under the Shah. I'm not sure how much I believe that.
The ayatollahs' photos are everywhere. At the shopping mall, in small businesses, restaurants, parks, on the autobahn ... and when I kiss Nasrin I feel like they are watching me. I don't know if it's to give citizens a sense of pride or to scare us from questioning our government. I think Khomeini is my "Angry Grandpa," and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of today, is my "Disappointed Grandpa." Whenever I think of Nasrin in public or at school, I feel their eyes on me. Angry Grandpa is the most judgmental. His brow is furrowed as if to say he knows exactly what I am: a degenerate.
Ayatollah Khomeini has been dead thirty years, but it's as though he never left. He's always mentioned in news broadcasts. Khamenei speaks of him with great reverence during his national addresses, and he's depicted as the father of the country. People typically hold their tongues if they don't agree with that sentiment. Those who don't ... Well, it makes their life a lot harder. There's a national holiday to commemorate his death. Some people make the pilgrimage from far, far away to visit his tomb and get one free meal given to visitors that day. Most people in Tehran try to get out of town and go visit the Caspian Sea.
Nasrin puts her tongue in my mouth and it makes me forget about Angry Grandpa for a moment. Her fingers run through my tangled hair, and I kiss her neck, making sure I don't leave a mark. We're always so careful, and being that way is exhausting, but we don't know anything else. We hear a knock at the door, and the two of us jump away from each other.
"Yes?" I say in my best calm voice while Nasrin looks into one of her books for the first time all afternoon.
Excerpted from If You Could Be Mine by SARA FARIZAN. Copyright © 2013 Sara Farizan. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
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.
Posted April 28, 2014
If You Could Be Mine was a book I wanted to love and wanted to give five stars to but could not. The synopsis pulled me in - I looked forward to reading about Sahar and Nasrin's love for one another in the context of a culture I'm not familiar with. Most of all, I wanted to see if Sahar would end up changing her true self in the name of love.
Sahar was willing to risk her happiness for Nasrin and undergo a radical change (radical because she didn't truly identify as a male), but Nasrin didn't want to risk hers. I questioned their relationship throughout the story. It was obvious to me that Sahar was much more in love with Nasrin than the other way around.
Nasrin didn't want to leave her easy comfortable life behind; it was more important to her than love. I wasn't that invested in their relationship as a result. I didn't care for Nasrin - I thought she was spoiled, selfish, and undeserving of Sahar's love.
As a result, I became more interested in Sahar's cousin Ali's story. There was much more life to Ali than either Sahar or Nasrin, who fell flat for me. I think If You Could Be Mine had all kinds of potential to be a five star book, but with underdevelopment of the characters I was wanting to root for, their unequal relationship dynamic, and more interesting secondary characters, I was left wanting more.
The ending, however, was satisfying for me because it was realistic. I don't think it could have ended any other way and wouldn't have wanted it to.
I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. Thank you!
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Posted July 17, 2014
Posted May 26, 2014
Sahar is 17, living in Tehran, and is in love with her life-long friend, Nasrin. Although Sahar dreams of spending her life with Nasrin, she knows that this is unlikely, as Nasrin will never be accepted at the university that Sahar will most likely get into--Nasrin is known for her beauty and not her brains. Sahar's cousin, Ali, introduces her to the mostly-hidden culture of sexual freedom in the club scene. When Nasrin's engagement is announced, Sahar, the narrator of this story, thinks that if she undergoes sex reassignment surgery, that would force an end to the upcoming nuptials. Homosexuality is forbidden in Iran but being transgender is not.
Nasrin--what a stuck-up, rich little girl. She feeds off the emotional attachment that Sahar has for her and complains at the least little thing. Sahar doesn't realize that she is being strung along, treated as a toy, and that she will ultimately be dumped. The story ends, months after the wedding, with the two young women in each others' arms but not in a way which one might expect. I really didn't like Nasrin's character.
This book will be an eye-opener to teens who are not familiar with societal norms outside their own. While I am not familiar myself with Iranian culture, I feel this is an important story for teens to read.
Amazing voice by Negin Farsa @NeginFarsad--perfect for this story.
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Posted April 8, 2014
This was a really lovely, painful story, and a fascinating examination of sexual policy and modern Iran, as it's pretty intensely focused on the difference in attitude toward homosexuality vs. gender dysphoria. Sahar is a sweet, ambitious character, and it's hard to watch how deeply she devotes herself to this one girl who is so much more limited in her ability to return it. If this were set in a different world, in a different life, Nasrin would be that kind of love interest you flat-out hate, the one who simply takes what she wants when she wants it. But context is everything, and I think Farizan did a great job establishing it here with a glimpse into base knowledge of the country and its politics.
For me, the shortcoming is in the all-too-abrupt fast-forward ending, and the fact that the story didn't take the opportunity to go beyond the one romance and give us more of Sahar. She felt a little underdeveloped to me, more of a vehicle for the romance and politics than a person herself, and I would've loved more about her being gay in Iran, particularly in the future touched upon in the final chapter, rather than just how it pertains to this one relationship. I wanted more of a feel for her as an independent entity, especially given that she had actual aspirations, and it didn't quite get there for me. I also found the fact that for all their passion, Sahar and Nasrin never even seemed to discuss or think about going beyond kissing, a little unusual. I would've liked and expected to see that, even if it were quickly dismissed.
Overall, though, a definite recommendation!
Posted September 7, 2013
I liked the culture and the message of this one. Sahar is a teen trying to be who she is under heavy government oppression. Sahar loves Nasrin and this is not allowed, so they are best friends and keep their love under wraps until a husband is chosen for Nasrin, and Sahar realizes that she doesn't want to be separated from her. She is close with her cousin Ali, who is gay and throws wild parties, and at one she meets Parveen who had sex reassignment surgery because this is allowed. This gets Sahar thinking that this could be her ticket to being with the girl she loves, Nasrin once and for all.
Sahar is smart, protective, hard working, and caring. She takes care of her dad, and she thinks and sees the best in others. She lost her mom, and her dad goes into deep depression and I totally felt and respected how Sahar loved and wanted to care for him. It came off really sincere as well how much she loved her mom and would say she could sense her presence or what she would have thought about something. This helped to add some additional emotional depth to the story!
While I liked Nasrin because I saw her through Sahar's eyes, I still didn't completely feel their love. I think that is because it was an established relationship and maybe the spark was assumed. While I appreciate greatly that it wasn't a case of insta-love especially since it is in a culture where this isn't allowed, and Sahar is considering such life altering measure in order to make it work. I like that they had the easy camaraderie, and even though there obviously was some chemistry, I just wish I could have experiences some flashbacks, or something in order to really experience that spark and make me more emotional invested. I feel like Sahar was too hard on Nasrin to love her as much as she did.
Oh, and I know this is probably just an ARC (advanced reader copy) issue, but there was some distracting formatting issues such as double ff's being omitted, and the first sentence of every chapter had pieces missing.
It is really neat to be immersed in a culture that is not mine, and yet not making myself feel dumb because I don't get the cultural differences. They are presented by showing me the norm, and even though I know it wouldn't be part of normal thought to explain what the Iranian words are, Ms. Farizan (the author) makes it natural.
The ending... I liked it but I didn't. It was very realistic, but I wanted it to somehow be more fantasy and more of an HEA than I got. But it took guts to write it like that, and I think that it gives hope for the future.
Posted August 23, 2013
Review originally posted at Bettering Me Up.
I really, really, really wanted to love this book: how do two homosexual women in Iran fight to be together? What a fantastic premise!
But I hated the characters. Sahar is a total biznatch to Nasrin the majority of the time and I have no idea why they're together. Sahar makes this monumental decision for their relationship WITHOUT CONSULTING HER GIRLFRIEND. That really pissed me off. I also don't understand why she didn't think about any other alternatives. Why did she turn immediately to a sex change operation?
I dislike when books tell me what's happening instead of showing me: it bogs the story down and leaves me unsatisfied.
Were this novel put in the hands of the right editor, it would be a fantastic story.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Posted August 26, 2013
No text was provided for this review.