Author: Sara Farizan
Publisher & Release Date: Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 20, 2013
The Hook: Just read the summary.
The Lowdown (from jacket): “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 had before, 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?”
Overall Impressions: Sahar is an intelligent, studious, responsible young woman living with and caring for her father, lost in grief still five years after her mother died. She wants to be a doctor and loves Nasrin. Frankly, Sahar’s awesome and Farizan does amazing things with her growth over the course of the book.
The announcement of Nasrin’s engagement shatters her carefully balanced world, and she fastens on the idea of sex reassignment surgery as a way to keep Nasrin. Her focus narrows to this goal, and she will lie and scheme her way to it.
In her quest, she begins attending Parveen’s transition support group. The stories the other members share make it clear having the reassignment surgery is not a magic reset button. Some families support them, some do not. Some find work, some do not. Their bodies may finally be right, their lives not so much, so the support group is vital to them. Their stories are both heartening and heart-rending. One member, Maryam, is miserable and she sees through Sahar. Maryam was a man in love with another man; when her brother discovered the relationship, he required the surgery or he would turn them in.
The glimpses of Iranian culture and family life are fascinating and compelling. The relationships between Sahar’s and Nasrin’s families are multi-layered, especially Nasrin’s mother.
Everyone lives in their own little piece of the world, their own understanding of how things work and net of people they know and care about. By the end, very few of the characters’ worlds are unchanged, and it all happens believably,
Nasrin, I think, doesn’t see that marrying Reza will lose her Sahar. Or rather she sees it, but she doesn’t fully grasp what this means. She does love Sahar, but she comes across as a shallower person, more immature.
Farizan poses a fascinating question: How far would you go to be with the one you love? Sahar was born female and identifies as female. The only other story I could think of that involved someone changing gender to make a relationship work was in Marvel’s Runaways, and in that case Xavian was a shape-shifter who was happy to take whatever form Karolina wanted. Would you change your sexual gender if it meant you could be with the one you loved? The tragedy is that for some people it’s not a fascinating question but a real one.
The Highs: Parveen, who is just wonderful. She has an enormous heart.
How Sahar and Ali obviously care about each other even as they don’t always see eye to eye.
The complexity of Sahar’s character as she weighs what the surgery would mean.
A particular conversation Sahar and Nasrin’s mother have near the end of the book.
Buzzkills: Graphic (well, realistic, no punches pulled) surgery description. I read that section rather lightly.
The Source: Digital galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
Disclaimer: No chocolate or Mercedes were exchanged for this review.