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?
Tell Me More: Potential is a strange thing. It can lift you up, give you something to live for. It can also drive you insane with the ghost of what could have been, and sometimes what you think should have been. Sara Farizan’s debut novel is a tale of potential, recognized and unrecognized, fulfilled and unfulfilled, in both the plot and the writing itself. And even after a few weeks of allowing my thoughts to percolate regarding this novel, I am still not sure of what it was trying to achieve, much less if it was able to achieve those things.
Settings such as those used in If You Could Be Mine are rarely found in YA fiction, but I was quite pleased that Farizan chose to set her story in Iran. It’s a brave choice, especially since Iran and its people are subject to much prejudice and stereotyping. It gives readers the chance to take in Sahar’s experiences and immerse themselves in that culture, and (hopefully) come out of it with more understanding and compassion towards their contemporaries on another continent. I have never been to Iran or any other country in that region, but Farizan’s descriptions were vivid enough to supplement my imagination, and I commend her for the attention to detail and liveliness of her various settings.
While the book succeeds in breathing life into Sahar and Nasrin’s home, it doesn’t quite match up with the characters themselves. Sahar serves as the narrator, but she is a difficult character, selfish and fixated on being with Nasrin at any cost. This does not make her a bad character, or one that the reader should despise. She is hard to get to know, however, and it was challenging to feel sympathy or understand her when so much of her wants and desires depended on another person. I wanted to know Sahar’s aspirations, the parts of her that were not marked with Nasrin, because it is those parts that make her a full person. Unfortunately, it felt like hitting a brick wall every time I tried to do that. The novel is quite short for the themes it takes on, and I do wish that Farizan had spent more time developing the plot and showing us more facets of Sahar and Nasrin’s friendship. As it stood, I spent much of the book feeling like I didn’t quite have the whole picture in front of me.
Nasrin is similarly difficult, but while I had tried my hardest to feel for Sahar, I found myself unable to do the same for her friend. Nasrin is selfish to the bone, incapable of seeing the worries and concerns of the people around her. I couldn’t understand what Sahar saw in her, or what could have given her the hope that Nasrin would be with her in the end. At best, Nasrin is oblivious to the intensity of Sahar’s feelings, and at worst, she is malicious in how she encourages Sahar to fight for her. Frankly, Nasrin is the least of what Sahar deserves as a person.
The utter mismatch between Sahar and Nasrin did not contribute well to the social themes running through the novel, though Farizan handled the subject matter with care and compassion. Sahar is so fixated on the potential of a relationship with Nasrin, a real and legal one, that she fails to see the very dangerous path she’s walking. I never really saw the threat of her being labeled as a criminal as the worst part of it all, but I was afraid that Sahar would lose herself in trying to become someone she’s not. Sex reassignment wouldn’t change Nasrin’s attitude towards life in general, or the way she treats Sahar like her own personal possession. It wouldn’t give Sahar what she deserves: a relationship with someone who is willing to fight for her as much as she’s willing to fight for Nasrin. She shouldn’t settle for anything or anyone, and she knows she’s worth more than becoming a secret. And whether that’s a man or a woman or a bisexual or transsexual person, that is something only Sahar can find for herself.
The Final Say: The desire to be loved is palpable in the pages of If You Could Be Mine, but like Sahar’s love for Nasrin, the story never quite reached its full potential. Sara Farizan’s growing talent is evident, and I would recommend this book for readers beginning to discover LGBTQ fiction.
Sara Farizan was born on August 2, 1984 in Massachusetts. Her parents immigrated from Iran in the seventies, her father a surgeon and her mother a homemaker. Sara grew up feeling different in her private high school not only because of her ethnicity but also because of her liking girls romantically, her lack of excitement in science and math, and her love of writing plays and short stories. So she came out of the closet in college, realized math and science weren’t so bad (but not for her), and decided she wanted to be a writer.
She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Sara has been a Hollywood intern, a waitress, a comic book/record store employee, an art magazine blogger, a marketing temp, and an after-school teacher, but above all else she has always been a writer. Sara lives near Boston, has a cool sister, loves Kurosawa films, eighties R&B, and graphic novels, and thinks all kids are awesome. (bio from Algonquin Young Readers)