A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that If You Could Be Mine is about an Iranian high school senior who's in love with her best friend and neighbor -- another girl. The book describes the oppressive and discriminatory laws that undermine personal freedom -- from what women can wear or show publicly to whom they can love (gay relationships are forbidden). The two central girls do make out -- always in private -- but they remain relatively chaste. There's occasional strong language ("s--t," "a--hole," and the like), as well as one shady cousin who hangs out with Iran's underground of LGBTQ people, opium users, and prostitutes. The police harass a girl and call her a "whore" for showing her elbows and beat up a man they know to be gay; the main character lives in fear that she'll be hanged for being gay, like two young men she remembers.
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What's the story?
Safar, 17, is a typical middle-class Iranian, except for the fact that she's secretly in love with her lifelong best girlfriend and neighbor, Nasrin, in a country where being gay isn't just difficult, it's deadly. Remembering two young men who were hanged for being gay, Safar struggles with her overwhelming feelings for Nasrin. When Nasrin's parents arrange for her to be married to a handsome doctor, Safar considers becoming one of a growing population of transgender Iranians, who as long as they are heterosexual after their gender reassignment are more accepted than gays. Unlike her new transgender friends, Safar doesn't feel like she's a man trapped in a woman's body. But if she stays a woman, she'll never be able to openly be with her true love.
Is it any good?
Farizan does a decent job of tackling extremely difficult subjects in a setting that will be utterly unfamiliar -- and unthinkably oppressive -- to most Western readers. She shows that regardless of where they live, teens in love are relatively the same the world over, even in places where that love is punishable by death. Protagonist Sahar is extremely smart, but she's also completely sheltered, having lost her mother at a young age and only a grief-stricken father as daily company. And she's in love with her gorgeous and glamorous -- if selfish -- bestie Nasrin.
Neither Sahar nor Nasrin are the most likable characters; they're both flawed in different ways: Sahar is so blinded by her love she's willing to entertain a sex change, even though she doesn't really want to be a man; and Nasrin is spoiled and narcissistic. The characters' shortcomings make the story even more believable, as the narrative would've felt too preachy and obvious if the girls were self-sacrificing martyrs. There aren't any big speeches, and neither girl rails against Islam in the book; but Sahar does make it clear that in a world where being a man gives you more rights, no one -- man or woman -- has the basic freedom of loving whom they please in Iran, and that's a sad fact indeed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how much more is at stake for Sahar because of where she lives. How would the story be different if it were set in America? What did you learn from the book about life in Iran?
Sahar says she would have more rights as a man -- even a transgender one -- than a woman. How does the author describe the plight of Iranian women under theocratic rule?
institutional sexism and discrimination, which are pervasive in Iran, are illegal in Western countries, but does that mean it doesn't exist? How are sexism and homophobia manifest in the United States? What can you do to combat prejudice?
- Author: Sara Farizan
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
- Publication date: August 20, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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