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Book Review: If You Could Be Mine
Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love
Elia Drozdovska

For our new unit in English class, we were given a choice of books to read about current conflicts in society. I read descriptions of each one, but If You Could Be Mine caught my attention because it’s about LGBTQ rights in a Muslim country.

The novel, written by Sara Farizan, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, is a bittersweet love story between two teenage girls in Iran. Seventeen-year-old Sahar, the protagonist, has to take care of herself and her depressed father after her mother dies. It’s not clear what her father does for a living, but they don’t have much money. Sahar hopes to get a scholarship to study medicine. She never misses a homework assignment and struggles to make friends. Nasrin, who Sahar falls in love with, is a popular and confident girl whose only goal in life is to please her wealthy parents by marrying a rich guy.

Their families know each other, so Sahar and Nasrin have grown up together. As they get older, their lives become more complicated when they realize they have romantic feelings for each other. “I thought about marrying Nasrin when we finally kissed, on the mouth, like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere did in Pretty Woman,” Sahar says.

Unlike here in America, Iranian law prohibits same-sex relationships. Those who are caught might be put in jail or even killed. Still, the characters risk their safety for love. “Her fingers run through my tangled hair, and I kiss her neck, making sure I don’t leave a mark,” says Sahar.

Nasrin seems less in love or perhaps more conflicted about the relationship than Sahar. In fact, as Nasrin’s family is making plans to marry her off, she doesn’t seem to hate the idea. She wants to be “normal,” which hurts Sahar’s feelings. “Why would you let me fall in love with you?” Sahar demands at one point. “You knew you were never going to settle for me. Was I just something to keep you busy?”

I Can Relate

I have known for a long time that I am attracted to both men and women. I know that my feelings are natural and I can’t change them. As Sahar says, “I wanted to stop loving Nasrin, but how do you stop doing something you are supposed to do?”

Just like Sahar, I feel comfortable with my sexuality, but I am scared to talk about it—even with people I am close to. It would break my heart if people who I love changed their feelings toward me if they knew my sexuality. Sometimes, I feel lonely and isolated, but at least I am lucky enough to live in a city where I feel safe. Living in a place where same-sex relationships are illegal would make me feel imprisoned.

Sahar is willing to do anything to be with Nasrin. She even thinks of running away with her to another country, until her cousin Ali, who is a member of a secret LGBTQ community, introduces her to Parveen, a transgender woman. She and Sahar quickly become friends.

You will immediately love Parveen for her kind heart and tragic life story, which I will let you read about for yourself. She takes Sahar to a transgender support group where she listens to people confide in each other about “living in the wrong body” or being a “mistake of nature.” Sahar also meets a doctor who tells her about gender confirmation surgery (also called gender reassignment), in which a person’s genitals and/or breasts are surgically altered so that they look more like the gender they identify with. He says it is painful, and the recovery is difficult.

Although Sahar feels comfortable as a woman, she considers gender reassignment surgery. She had heard others have done that so they can have an open relationship that is legal. But she ultimately decides not to.

It seems insane to me that this surgery is the only way gay people in Iran can be with the person they love. I didn’t believe it was true, so I asked my English teacher who is also Iranian-American. She confirmed it.

image by Algonquin Young Readers

Your Elbows Are Showing

I grew up in Ukraine and was raised as an Orthodox Christian. Just like Sahar, who is Muslim, I am expected to follow my family’s religion even though I don’t agree with many of the beliefs, including not being accepting of people who are gay or practice other religions.

Sahar feels like practicing Islam not only suppresses her rights as a woman, but also does not allow her to be her true self because loving another woman makes her a sinner.

Though the main focus of the book is about how dangerous it is to be gay in Iran, it also showed me how hard things are there for all women. For instance, one day while Nasrin and Sahar are out together, an officer approaches Nasrin.

“Is there a reason your elbows are showing?” he asks.

It isn’t the first time I have seen these confrontations. I don’t want them to hurt Nasrin, Sahar thinks to herself.

“My clothes shrank in the wash!” Nasrin lies. “I didn’t have time to change.”

After the policeman recognizes Sahar from a friend’s party, he backs off but adds,

“Your friend looks like a whore.”

“It is not uncommon for a policeman to say something like this,” Sahar thinks to herself.

I liked this scene because it details what it’s like for young women in Iran.

If You Could Be Mine is beautiful and sad, because there can be no happy ending. The lovers live in Iran, and being gay is punishable by death, so they can’t be together. So even if you are not a fan of romantic stories, this one is worth reading because you will learn about the severe impact of human rights violations.

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