Farizan, Sara. (2013). If You Could Be Mine. Chapel Hill: Algonquin.
This young adult novel is narrated by 17-year-old Sahar, who is a lesbian in Iran, where homosexuality is a crime that could be punished by physical violence, prison, or even execution. She has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were little girls. Their romance must be secret, and they steal kisses in private moments, but their fragile arrangement crumbles when Nasrin’s parents arrange for her to marry a doctor.
Panicked and dreaming of a new life where she and Nasrin can love each other openly, Sahar seeks out the underground LGBTQ community. Her gay cousin introduces her to a transsexual woman named Parveen, who takes her under her wing and explains that in Iranian law, transsexuality is a legal medical condition and the government will fund surgical transition. Suddenly, Sahar has found a solution—imperfect and uncomfortable, but a legal way to be with her lover.
I found myself feeling really uneasy with the idea of a cisgender person trying on a transgender identity, but as the story goes on, it’s clear that Sahar is only exploring this possibility out of utter despair and fear. In a place where her identity is criminalized, of course she would grasp at any potential way to stay alive, not in prison, and be with the person she loves.
Unfortunately, Nasrin doesn’t seem to feel quite as strongly as Sahar, and in fact, I found her personality quite unpleasant. She is very selfish and makes choices based on her own financial comfort. She doesn’t seem very upset about her arranged marriage, since it means she will be able to live in the manner she is accustomed. She also seems to have little regard for Sahar’s feelings and experiences. The relationship seems very unhealthy to me, although I’m unsure if a criminalized high school relationship could possibly be healthy.
If You Could Be Mine was a 2014 ALA Rainbow List Top 10 title, a 2014 Lambda Literary Award winner, and won the Ferro-Grumley award for LGBT Fiction. This book is worth reading for the themes of oppression and details about transsexual experience in Iran. However, I personally found much of the narrative unsatisfying, because I so disliked one of the major characters.
Author Sara Farizan was interviewed by NPR in September 2013. Her thoughtful responses as a gay Iranian American might aid in understanding character motivation.