By Sara Farizan
Available now from Algonquin Young Readers (Workman)
IF YOU COULD BE MINE is getting some major buzz. It is one of the launch titles for the Algonquin Young Readers imprint and was highlighted at this year's BEA conference. Clearly, a lot of people are confident about this title. That gave me pretty high expectations.
Some of my expectations came from the Algonquin name. It's one that I associate with literary quality. Sara Farizan's prose is competent, but nothing special. There's a love story at the heart of IF YOU COULD BE MINE, driving its heroine Sahar's desperate decisions, but there's little passion in the words. Sahar is overflowing with emotion, but her drama is muted on the page.
Sahar is a lesbian. She lives in Iran, where she could be killed if her relationship with Nasrin is discovered. But she's willing to do anything for Nasrin, who is breaking up with her to marry a man and make her family proud. She's even willing to have a sex change, because being trans is legal in Iran. In fact, the government will even pay for the sex change in order to prevent the perversity of someone in the wrong body.
Farizan does do a good job with Sahar's dawning realization of the seriousness of a sex change. I am not surprised by Sahar's willingness to jump into it without thinking, as she is seventeen and in love and afraid for her life. I also liked the range of people Sahar meets on her journey, and that they aren't perfect. They have their own prejudices. Farizan shows where Iran is more progressive than the US - trans rights - but she doesn't shy away from where it is less.
I wish there was more Nasrin in the book. Most of her scenes involve her pulling away from Sahar and acting fairly cold. That's where the real frustration with Sahar's decisions come in. Not that she's being impulsive and short sighted, but that she's doing it all for someone who is going to snub the effort. Conversely, Nasrin's fiance was a surprise delight. If you have to be forced to marry someone, at least you might end up with someone decent.
The most successful part of the book was Sahar's relationship with her father. She loves him, yet fears him knowing the truth. Another successful aspect were the glimpses of Iran's LGBQ underground, courtesy of Sahar's cousin Ali, who manages to be pretty flamboyantly gay. They were a good contrast to the scenes of T culture. But that storyline never goes into any real depth and gets a pat ending.
I think Farizan's debut has interesting ideas and an intriguing setting, but they felt to cohere into a plot with real impact. It's a good book, but I expected a great one. I'd pick IF YOU COULD BE MINE up if you're interested in LGBTQ literature, but would otherwise give it a pass.