Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Release date: August 20, 2013
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pages: 248
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult
One of Rolling Stone’s 40 Best YA Novels
A 2014 ALA Rainbow List Top 10 Title
Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth 2013
A Chicago Public Library “Best of the Best” 2013

This Forbidden Romance Could Cost Them Their Lives

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. So they carry on in secret until Nasrin’s parents suddenly announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution: 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. Sahar will never be able to love Nasrin in the body she wants to be loved in without risking their lives, but is saving their love worth sacrificing her true self?

I was pleased when I found this one from the shelves of my local library, because not only was it a book I had wanted to read for a while, it also fit quite well with my current mood for reading books that deal with themes of postcolonialism, feminism, religion, race, etc. 

If You Could Be Mine is a fairly short book targeted mainly for young readers, with it being a young adult release, but it certainly includes a lot of food for thought within it 240-something pages. Sahar is 17 year old Iranian girl living with her father after the death of her mother. While her father lives his life like a ghost, still heartbroken my the loss of his wife, Sahar keeps herself busy. She is studying for exams that will determine her future and which university she will be able to get into, while she at the same time struggles with hiding her feelings for Nasrin, her best friend. Sahar and Nashir have been in love since they were children, but the fact that they are both girls is a big no-no in Iran. If someone were to find out about their little exchanges of passion, consequences could be fatal. When Sahar, who has been hoping to keep hooking up with Nasrin in secret until she is in a position they can escape the situation in their country, she hears that Nasrin has agreed to marry a man over 10 years her senior. Sahar is heartbroken, but determined to make a big, final move in order to keep Nasrin in her life.

While homosexuality is a crime, Sahar learns that sex reassignment surgeries are legal and even paid by the government. After meeting a group of people who have gone through the surgery, Sahar is determined to get herself into a surgery and into a body of a man in order to make sure Nasrin can be with her instead of her new fiance. While Sahar tries to tell herself that things will be easier if she becomes a man, she does not feel uncomfortable in her body. Actually, she quite loves her body and wants to be able to be loved as a woman by another woman, but she knows that in her society, that is just not possible.

Though I had had this book on my Goodreads to-read list for AGES, it seems like I never really read that synopsis entirely because the whole sex reassignment thing came as a surprise to me. As Sahar gets deeper and deeper into thinking that she has to change her sex in order to be able to be with Nasrin, I started to get more and more scared for her - I AM ALL FOR SEX REASSIGNMENT WHEN SOMEONE ACTUALLY WANTS/NEEDS IT, BUT AT NO POINT SAHAR REALLY WANTS IT! As the novel processed, I also got increasingly frustrated with Nasrin.

Throughout the novel Nasrin is the more "passive" of the two when it comes to trying to actually make the relationship a reality. While Sahar comes from a less affluent background, Nasrin is used to luxury and being spoiled. Trying something is Sahar, like leaving the country or defying the will of her parents could mean that she would have to say goodbye to a lifestyle she has gotten used to. While I occasionally was annoyed by the way Nasrin acts, at the same time she is the more realistic of the two, given the rules of their society. She knows that in order to get at least a resemblance of happiness, she will have to marry and try to be a proper wife for a man. But the way she keeps Sahar waiting and hoping for something else felt wrong at parts.

Farizan writes well and develops her characters, especially Sahar, to a good extend. The supporting characters, like Sahar's cousin Ali and her father, are interesting and definitely add depth to the story, but never steal the main focus from the struggle Sahar has to go through. I believe this was the first time I read a book set in Iran, and I definitely was interested to learn more about the Iranian society and customs, especially when it comes to the treatment on same sex couples and trans people. 

While I enjoyed this book and found it extremely interesting, I felt like something was missing, which is why I only rated it 3 stars. I can't really put my finger into what I think was missing, but throughout reading it, I never got that feeling of not wanting to put the book down before I finish it, or the feeling of sadness when it was over (I mean, yes, I felt for these characters in the end, but I never felt like I wished there was more to their story that those 240-something pages). If you are interested in a YA book set in a culture different from a Western viewpoint, I recommend picking this one up to see what you think about it!

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