If You Could Be Mine
by Sara Farizan
Publication Date: August 20, 2013
Approximate Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Alquonquin Young Readers
Obtained Via: Was given e-arc in exchange for honest review by publisher on netgalley
Format Read In: Kindle e-book
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In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.
Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.
So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.
Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self?
A book like If You Could Be Mine is hard to review because as a fictional exploration of a very real, very pressing social issue, I think it does it’s job. While reading, I felt I got quite a bit of insight into the Iranian culture and really came to understand where Sahar is coming from. As a book, it didn’t quite do it for me, and while there are multiple reasons for that, there’s one in particular that stands out: I didn’t want Sahar to succeed in being with Nasrin because Nasrin, while a product of her environment, is quite simply a jerk.
Since the whole book centers around Sahar trying to find a way to be with Nasrin–even going as far as to consider sexual reassignment surgery– this was a major point where the book went downhill for me. No matter what Sahar did, I was hoping she would fail, which is not something I want to be thinking about a main character. Sahar herself was a sympathetic character, but Nasrin seemed to regard Sahar as merely a passing moment, while for Sahar, Nasrin was her life. In this mindset, it was hard to root for the main characters.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t want Sahar to succeed because I found Nasrin to be utterly unsympathetic. At no point did I ever BEGIN to even entertain the idea that Nasrin really loved Sahar. At all. And so of course I was rooting for Sahar to fail in her mission because even though she wasn’t the best character either, she deserved better. None of the characters felt like real people–they all seemed to exist for the sake of the story, instead of the story coming naturally from the characters and their development.
The writing also felt a bit sloppy and rushed. After talking about it with other readers on Twitter, I’ve seen multiple people say, and I agree, that this felt like a first draft. If it had gone back and forth between the editor and author a few more times, if it had been polished a bit more and some of the pacing tightened up, I think I could have enjoyed it. Ultimately, though, it just wasn’t an enjoyable or that enlightening of a reading experience.
As I stated in the first paragraph, the book’s exploration of the Iranian culture and attitude did a good job of educating me, and it was these parts of the book I enjoyed the most. I also enjoyed the exploration of Sahar’s relationship with her father, which was tense due to her mother’s death which happens before the book begins. Moments like this– where Sahar and her father finally talk a little about their grief– are the brief shining moments of this book, which is unfortunate, since it’s not the focus.
Ultimately, there’s not a whole left to say about the book. It left me with a “meh” feeling, though the ending did perk up my opinion slightly, though it felt a bit rushed. I really enjoyed the character of Sahar, but I couldn’t root for her when her purpose was to be with Nasrin, since Nasrin never treated her right. The bit of positivity I have about this book comes more for what this book could mean for future works in the YA category that explore issues of sexuality, gender, and culture, rather than the actual work itself.
Final Impression: If You Could Be Mine does a good job of introducing readers to the culture and attitudes in Iran, but unfortunately focuses two girls who I couldn’t root for as a reader because their relationship seemed so uneven and I found Nasrinto be quite a jerk to Sahar. It made it impossible for me to really root for Sahar, so while I was sympathetic towards her, I was rather “meh” towards the rest of the book. Some good aspects, but overall was lackluster for me. That being said, I do think this book is important as a conversation starter and shows a great need for books like this in literature. 2/5 cupcakes.