Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 20th, 2013
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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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 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?
I don’t usually read books like If You Could Be Mine. They just aren’t my thing. Angsty contemporaries? Not what I find entertaining or enjoyable. So when an opportunity came up to review this, I passed on it. But then, I came across it at BEA and sort of felt it was kismet. Generally if a book keeps appearing in my life in various places, I take that as a sign I must read it. With so many books on my shelves, I only have so much time and I find myself being choosy with my reading material. But a book appearing more than once is something I cannot pass up. So I picked it up and I am glad that I did.
If You Could Be Mine is a GLBT romance set in ultra-conservative Iran. Being gay there is literally against the law. And having a romance with a member of the same sex can put you in prison, or in the case of one example in the book, hung in a public place where all can watch. It is a very scary place to live for almost anyone, except straight men. If you are a minority, if you are gay, if you are female, you are oppressed. And it is terrifying.
But back to the book. Sahar and Nasrin are both female, best friends, and they have grown up together. They are also in love and they have to hide it from their families, friends, and everyone else. Sahar has extremely low self-esteem because she believes something is wrong with her and it is sad to watch. But she loves Nasrin and that’s all that matters. Nasrin, on the other hand, never seems very serious about their relationship and I got the impression that it was just something to pass the time until her arranged marriage came through. To be with Nasrin, Sahar hatches a plan, and this is when the book becomes extremely scary and disturbing. It is not difficult to read, but it is a very sad experience.
Technically, there were a lot of things I liked about If You Could Be Mine. I liked the writing–the simple style and the flow of the words. I really loved the voice of Sahar. But by the same token, I never felt like I really knew her. Nasrin had this larger than life personality, but I didn’t think either of these characters were very well developed. Outside of each other, they really had no interests or hobbies, or a personality that made them who they were. I actually liked the side characters better and almost wanted to know more about their lives outside of Sahar/Nasrin.
Even though I have some criticisms, when a book makes me cry and brings out the emotion in me, I know there is something special about it. Before that happened, I was pretty sure it would be a 3 star book for me. But since I ended up crying at the end (and not just a few tears) I felt it deserved the extra star. It’s definitely not a book that everyone would like. But what it does is bring some issues to light about living in the Middle East that need to be very much addressed. It’s sad that people have to live this way, and it is incredibly sad and terrifying to me that they have no other options–that they can’t be free to be who they are. It is books like this that get people talking, opening up a discussion, and that is how things begin to change.