I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Also by this author: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Published by Algonquin Books on September 9th 2014
Genres: Homosexuality, Middle East, People & Places, Social Issues, Young Adult
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?
When I first heard about If You Could Be Mine, I knew I had to read it. I was so excited that I had found another book that included diversity in the young adult world! Honestly, that is something that is still sadly missing in a lot of ways. Especially when it comes to stories of non-white characters and/or characters that don’t live in America. Luckily, there are authors like Sara Farizan who are attempting to bring it to light in a fresh, new, exciting way.
The premise of If You Could Be Mine is one that is enthralling and eye opening. It’s not necessarily action-packed but there are things that happen within the novel that kinda make you step back and think. You see, the setting of the book is Iran, and in Iran it is illegal to be homosexual. It is not however illegal to have sex reassignment surgery especially if it has been approved through the appropriate government organizations. As a reader whose knowledge is relatively limited when it comes to life in Iran (I mean, I know the basics but nothing really beyond that), it was very interesting for me to learn about this. It was also interesting for me to watch the main character of the book, Sahar, as she struggled with her own identity, and the decisions that she tries to make because of this.
Sahar has been in love with her best friend Nasrin for as long as she can remember but she has had to keep this love a secret due to the laws in Iran. Together, they have fooled around a bit, and made a secret commitment to each other but, the commitment has never been made public for fear of their lives. But when Nasrin becomes engaged to a wealthy doctor via her parents arranging the marriage, Sahar becomes desperate to hold onto the woman that she loves. Through her gay cousin Ali, she meets a group of LGBT people secretly living in Iran. By meeting them, she begins to see some hope and the opportunity to be able to finally get what she so desperately wants. Yet the only way she can conceive to do this is to go through with a sex reassignment and so begins her difficult and heartfelt journey.
I empathized with Sahar is a lot of different ways. There really have been only two constants in her life: the fact that she wants to go to University to become a doctor, and the fact that she is in love with her best friend. Otherwise, her life has been a bit of a mess. Her mother died from a heart attack leaving her to take care of her father who is suffering from depression and whom doesn’t really have a clue how to survive by himself. And the Iranian law forces her to act a certain way for the sake of her safety all based around the fact that she is a woman as well as a closeted lesbian. I could understand how she became so wrapped up in her feelings for Nasrin, and how she would become so desperate to do whatever it takes to be with her.
That being said, I didn’t necessarily always understand her devotion because as a character Nasrin drove me nuts. In many ways it felt like she was just with Sahar for the attention. I didn’t feel the same level of devotion from Nasrin as I did from Sahar. I also felt that if given the choice, she could not and would not give up the cushy lifestyle that she was so used to in order to be with Sahar. She would not be one of the LGBT community members who were living in fear and hiding in order to be with the people that they loved. Also, I don’t think Nasrin really understood the depths to which Sahar was willing to go in order to be with her. I couldn’t help wishing that Sahar would just talk to her about her plans instead of just assuming that she would be okay with them. If she had talked to her in advance, I think she would have been in for a relatively rude awakening even more so then she finally received.
All and all, I found myself unable to root for Sahar and Nasrin to end up together in If You Could Be Mine. I also questioned the quick explanation of trans bodies and identities. As someone who has a close friend who is transgender (who I met post-transition) and as someone who studied gender identity, I couldn’t help but question the lack of understanding that seemed to be within the book. I can understand not wanting to go into too much detail as this is a young adult book but at the same time, I really disliked how Sahar just kinda shrugged off the seriousness of what is a pretty serious decision regarding sex reassignment surgery. Honestly, it made me cringe a bit. Having prior knowledge, I think helped me take away a bit more from the book but, I can’t help but wonder how those who have not been exposed to these issues before will understand it and what they will take from it.
In a final positive closing note, I can say that I loved the fact that If You Could Be Mine was set in Iran. I really liked learning more about the Iranian culture. It felt very realistic and in many ways I think humanized a group of people that are usually so isolated not only in the young adult world but also in the world in general. In her debut novel, Sara Farizan created a unique group of diverse characters who were very real feeling. She brought in issues that were important not only to the cultural setting but also in a universal manner. I applaud her for writing such a novel, and can’t wait to see what comes next!