Sahar and Nasrin have grown up together in Iran and went from best friends to girlfriends. They’re kisses are stolen behind closed doors in the privacy of their bedrooms and, because homosexuality is illegal in Iran, must keep their love for each other a secret. Their plan to continue as they have been is thrown off course when Nasrin’s parents arrange a marriage for her to a young doctor. Sahar is devastated and races against time to find a solution that will stop the wedding from happening. She comes across the idea of gender reassignment because while it’s illegal to be gay in Iran, it’s legal to want to change your gender. Sahar is convinced that this is the only way to stop Nasrin from marrying someone else and must find a way to get the surgery done before it’s too late.
Upon hearing about this novel from debut author Sara Farizan, I was immediately intrigued at the subject matter. The setting of Iran is not a common one often seen in YA and especially not the topic of LGBT youths. I personally haven’t read a story that dealt with this issue and Farizan does a great job at illustrating the cultural intricacies and dynamics that are associated with being gay in Iran. I find it fascinating (and disbelieving) that it’s not okay to like someone of the same sex in Iran, but it’s perfectly okay – and sanctioned – to want to have surgery to change your gender instead. It felt like that’s their solution to “fix” the apparent “problem”.
Understanding the evident inner turmoil that Sahar goes through and the angst and frustration at her girlfirend/best friend’s upcoming arranged marriage to a genuinely decent man, I still found it tough to accept that one could be so blinded and single-minded by a given situation. Yes they’re young, yes she’s in love but at so many points I wanted to shake Sahar to have her wake up and open her eyes. That’s not to say that I mean it in the respect of what gender she is attracted to. No, there are so many other situations and decisions that Sahar is faced with that seem like the wrong one to be making. For as brave as she is to want to change her gender for Nasrin, she is just as cowardly and afraid of change in so many other aspects of her life.
I loved that If You Could Be Mine is introducing more cultural diversity into YA. It is a deeply moving and powerful debut novel by an author that I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next.