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?
I listed IF YOU COULD BE MINE as a Waiting on Wednesday pick a while back and was completely floored when the kind folks at Algonquin Young Readers had this book (and others) in my mailbox within 2 weeks. I have become more interested in Middle Eastern and Asian culture as of late, and have been impressed thus far by the few books I've read that feature these regions and their people. When a Young Adult novel combines not only characters of different ethnicities, but also characters within the LGBT community, I sit up and take notice. This combination is hard to find and so, a certain level of expectation comes with reading said novel.
After having recently read A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury, which takes place solely in India, I had slightly higher expectations in regard to cultural depictions and setting going into IF YOU COULD BE MINE. We do get a glimpse into the oppressiveness of the Iranian laws (prison time for showing elbows, ladies!) and the shocking inequality between men and women, but I was hoping for a bit more. Unfortunately, this is the least of my concerns about this novel. Most of my disappointment lies within the story itself. Sahar and Nasrin have been friends, and supposedly in love, since they were six. Aside from a few pages at the beginning of the book, however, we never get a feel for their childhood friendship or how or why they came to fall in love with each other. This omission was made even more obvious as I followed their story through current day.
Nasrin is a selfish tease, pure and simple. I have no earthly idea why Sahar was so committed to and infatuated with her! She sees Sahar when it suits her and is content to play house as long as it doesn't involve any real commitment on her part. Had their childhood friendship been fleshed out perhaps I would know why Sahar was so willing to give up her very identity for Nasrin, but because there was a complete lack of characterization and background, I just didn't buy into their romance or friendship. In the end, I felt incredibly sorry for Sahar. Unrequited love is incredibly tough to deal with, but to also feel as if you don't belong anywhere, even within your own home, it's a heavy load to bear. When Sahar began considering a sex change operation, it was just too much. I was so angry with both of them, but moreso with Sahar. That she would consider such a drastic, life-altering surgery without even consulting the person for whom she was making the change seemed absolutely foolish!
Despite the aforementioned negatives, IF YOU COULD BE MINE is not without its positives. The writing, while simple, is decent, and the secondary characters really captured my attention. Although the story is about Sahar and Nasrin's romance, I found myself much more intrigued by Ali, Sahar's gregarious, gay cousin, and Ali's transgendered friend (whose name escapes me at the moment). Unfortunately, the secondary characters also suffered from lack of depth and characterization. In fact, that seems to be my main issue with the book in general: though I realize I read an Advanced Reading Copy and things may very well be different in the final version, the whole story felt unfinished. It reads like a decent first draft of what could have been a truly amazing entry into this much-needed sub-genre of Young Adult novels. As it is, it falls short of the mark.
Overall, IF YOU COULD BE MINE tackles a tough subject matter in a nonjudgmental way and certainly gives the reader a lot to think about in regard to the challenges that millions of those in the LGBT community face every day across the globe. Those looking for a quick, one-day read that will keep you turning the pages, IF YOU COULD BE MINE is a good choice!