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.
What Left Me Wanting More:
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.
The Final Verdict:
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.