Review: If You Could Be Mine

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 20, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: BEA
Goodreads
three-half-stars

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?

First Sentence: “Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn’t want to play with her dolls.”

Review:
If You Could Be Mine falls into two much-needed categories of YA: GLBT and non-white. As such, I really wanted to read it, and I’m glad I did. Farizan’s debut has a fresh narrative voice, one that has a very non-western feel, while still being open and clear. Set in Iran, Farizan tackles first love, being different, friendship, and homosexuality with honesty and heart.

The plot of If You Could Be Mine, while not melodramatic or action-packed, is enthralling. I, for one, love being able to take a journey to another culture in my reading, something that I don’t get to do enough. In my experience, a lot of the non-western novels I’ve read (generally aimed at adults) tend to be unremittingly depressing, but Farizan retains lighter moments and keeps the tone fairly bright while still capturing the restraints that Iranian society puts onto Sahar and Nasrin.

Sahar has loved Nasrin for over ten years, and wanted to marry her. Soon Sahar will be heading off to university, assuming she passes her exams, and Nasrin, who Sahar always hoped would wait for her, is marrying a young doctor. Feeling both betrayed and determined, Sahar would do anything to keep Nasrin with her, beautiful Nasrin who makes Sahar feel more special and confident just by returning her affection. Being homosexual is in Iran a serious crime, one punishable by death, but, for Nasrin, Sahar would risk anything; Nasrin is more practical and more used to a comfortable life.

Since Nasrin cannot be convinced to call the wedding off just for love of Sahar, other plans have to be made. Through her gay cousin Ali, Sahar meets a bunch of gay and transgender people living in Iran. Now, oddly, Iran embraces transgender people and even helps finance the gender reassignment surgeries. In this, Sahar sees hope. By changing who she is can she have everything that she wants? The fact that Sahar would alter herself this way when she has always felt like a woman, all of that for a girl, is startling and terrifying. The harsh laws of society make gender reassignment seem like the only solution to be able to remain with the person Sahar loves.

Farizan does all of this very well, because she keeps the book non-preachy. There’s not really a sense of judgment. At most, there’s disappointment in those who do not try for what they want, but that feeling of disappointment is aimed more at the unforgiving society than the people themselves. While everyone doesn’t come out in a good light, perhaps none really do, no one is demonized either.

I think what held me back from loving and really connecting with If You Could Be Mine was Sahar. I sympathize with Sahar and her narrative voice fits her, but she’s a bit…empty. Sahar’s young and hasn’t really developed to much of a self yet, having always been all about keeping Nasrin happy. She doesn’t have an incredibly strong personality, and her desperate need to be with Nasrin, despite the fact that Nasrin had gotten engaged without telling her, was something which I really could not relate to in the least.

An impressive debut, If You Could Be Mine tackles tough and unique subject matter with openness and a lack of judgment. Those looking for more YA set in other cultures and/or glbt YA must get their hands on this one.

Favorite Quote:

“Maman died five years ago of a heart attack. Her smoking probably didn’t help. I told her to stop. She just smiled sweetly and told me not to worry so much. That’s what we do. Smile and not worry so much. Riot in the street? Smile and don’t worry so much. See the swinging bodies in the square? Smile and don’t worry so much. Can’t be with the person you love because it’s against the law? Smile, damn it.”

20 responses to “Review: If You Could Be Mine”

  1. Soma Rostam says:

    Well,I have heard a couple of very good stuff about this
    GREAT review,as always
    Your reader,
    Soma
    http://insomnia-of-books.blogspot.com/

  2. I’m glad to read a review of this one, Christina. It’s baffling to me that Muslims have no issue with transgender yet cannot condone homosexuality. I remember reading a book in college, Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, and I was just fascinated by this insider’s look at Muslim culture. I think I may need to pick this one up as well. Great review:)

    • Christina says:

      I’ll have to check that book out. Reading about Muslim culture really is fascinating because I know so little about it. I never would have guessed that they were so supportive of transgender. Really astounding.

  3. P.E. Mari says:

    I’m so curious about this one due to my Persian heritage. I don’t like that Sahar has no depth, but I am interested in the intricacies of Iranian culture, especially the Muslim parts because my family isn’t Muslim. Also, love the quote. From what I’ve seen, pretending everything is okay and remaining polite is huge in that culture. Thanks for the review!

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

    • Christina says:

      Well, I wouldn’t quite say Sahar is without depth, but she didn’t really resonate with me. She’s too focused on Nasrin without regard to how Nasrin treats her. That quote was my favorite one by far. It did seem to be a big part of the culture. Seemed like a lot of people knew about things that were happening and turned a blind eye.

  4. Kayla Beck says:

    I think I remember hearing about this book, and I wish that I was more interested. The fictional books that I’ve read that are set within the Islamic culture have been stinkers, but I’m usually willing to give another a go. However, I may have to skip this one. I think I would want to shake Sahar for being willing to do that to herself over just one person. *sigh* I’ve become much too old and bitter to love someone so completely that I was willing to change my gender. But anywho, great review as always. 🙂

    • Christina says:

      Oh dear, I know how that goes though. I’m pretty much terrified of books set on the Indian subcontinent, because I read a string of awful books set there. However, I’m sure Salman Rushdie will get me back into it when I have the time.

      Sahar’s young and a little bit naive (I would say stupid, but she’s actually a smart girl).

    • Kayla Beck says:

      I fell in love with Jhumpa Lahiri in college, and that’s pretty much the extent of what I’ve read in the Indian subcontinent. Well, unless we’re counting the stories from 1,001 Nights set there. *scratches head*

      Smart girls are usually the stupidest when it comes to love. I can tell you stories. Just not on the internet. 😉

  5. I have this one as a review book, but have shied away from it because I’m not sure I would enjoy it. I think the setting is what gets me more than anything, I’m not always engaged if the setting is real and not fantasy. However, learning more about other cultures makes me a more well rounded. I’m happy to hear you thought it wasn’t melodramatic because I’ve read enough depressing reads lately. Overall, very helpful review. I think you’ve convinced me this one is worth picking up and giving it a try.

    • Christina says:

      For the most part, this really didn’t read as depressing to me at all, though obviously the actual story itself is sad. There’s a lot of life to the narration that saves it. Or I’m just weird and don’t find anything sad. One of them.

  6. This one randomly showed up at my house and I wasn’t too sure how it would be. I’ll definitely be reading it now. Love that it takes place in Iran and deals with that it is like to be LGBT over there, scary stuff.

    Side note, do they really help fund gender reassignment surgery? *runs off to google*

    • Christina says:

      I think you’ll enjoy it, jenni!

      Not sure, but it seems like a really weird fact to make up in a novel. THEY DO. Google says they provide up to half of the money for it. Crazy!

  7. Oh wow. The quote you chose.

    I’ve seen a lot of reviews on this one that seem to agree on a couple of things: that the romance sometimes didn’t elicit the tenderest of understandings, that both characters fell a little flat. Were you satisfied with the portrayal of the culture? It makes my heart happy to see the portrayal of some Middle-Eastern aspects (albeit even if the gender rules are very harsh), and I particularly agree with you on most non-white books set in the same areas being rather depressing (or a criticism of the wars), but some reviews said that the cultural setting could have been explored a bit more.

    The gender reassignment part really surprised me when I first read reviews that talked about the law there, but I’m getting less surprised. I probably am bias and heard this from bias sources, and it may not be true, but Lebanon is generally considered pretty “western” for a Middle-Eastern country, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, it’s illegal for two guys to hold hands in the streets. Though I think there are some clubs and bars for gay people… Could be wrong, but interesting to note contradictions like that.

    • Christina says:

      Great quote, isn’t it?

      I was pretty happy with the portrayal of the culture. I thought the writing felt a bit foreign. Slightly different in some way, but also very easy to relate to. Not sure if that makes sense. I suppose there could have been more. I mean, for the most part, her life wasn’t that different from ours, so that could have been stressed, but, for the audience, that might have been too much of an inundation, I don’t know. I guess it was more the suggestion of the culture than a real immersion.

      From what I read, the gender laws really are accurately reflected in IYCBM. Being gay is illegal, though I’m not sure about the holding hands thing specifically. There were some bars gay people in the book frequented, but they were more of a community secret sort of thing, I think.

  8. fakesteph says:

    Yes, I totally agree with this. I wanted this to be so much more, but Sahar was too young. I also felt like she was obsessed with Nasrin more than she was in love with her. You managed to say everything much more eloquently than me, though.

    • Christina says:

      Oh, thanks! I’m sure you did fine. She was just too dependent on Nasrin, and while I know that happens I’m just not that sort of person, so I’m like GIRL WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

  9. Lovely review! I’ve heard similar things from other reviews: great premise, pretty good story, but not the best. Despite that, I do want to read this one as I’m curious about the culture as well and I love LGBT novels.

    -Lauren

  10. Rachelia says:

    I liked aspects of this one, but it didn’t really work for me. As you said, I found Sahar kind of empty but I also found Nasrin annoying and kind of selfish. I just saw a lot more potential in this than what was delivered unfortunately. I DO however love that quote to death about “Smile and don’t worry so much”. I think it’s really accurate about how women everywhere are expected to deal with things.

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