by Sara Farizan
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Won ARC copy from The Fake Steph book blog. Thank you!
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?
The problem with this book is that when you’re done with it, you can’t look at the cover without wanting to tear up a bit. You get the book, you see the cover, and you think “okay, it fits the title – she’s grasping, trying to hold on, etc.”, and then you finish the book and you realize that the meaning of the cover is so much deeper and profoundly emotional than that, and the meaning of the title shifts along with it. And then you’re crying.
That said, this is actually kind of a fun book. Especially if you’re a nerd like me and love getting to think “Wow. Most affluent young Iranians get nose jobs, and the Iranian version of a Happy Meal usually includes a bootleg DVD as a prize? Yay random facts I would probably have never learned otherwise!” while reading. I felt like I was learning a lot, but not in an info-dump, thinly-veiled lecture way. The facts blended seamlessly with the narrative, and served to anchor the story in reality, and forge a deeper connection to the characters.
I can’t be the only one who noticed that the names of the two main characters are an almost-anagram for the name of the author. I think she really did put a lot of herself into this book, being of Iranian descent as well as LGBT, even though she grew up in the U.S. I didn’t have any trouble connecting with Sahar. She has serious self-esteem issues that she attempts to hide with humor, and you can tell she cares deeply about the people in her life. Nasrin was a spoiled brat, it’s true, but I still understood why Sahar loved her. Everyone did. Some people just have that charisma. I’ve met a few. And I think that’s why Nasrin loved Sahar back – because Sahar loved her for herself, the real Nasrin, not just the image of Nasrin. They were the only people they could be themselves with, not just because they were gay, but in general.
The supporting characters were well fleshed-out, and I was touched by the development of the relationship between Sahar and her father. Scenes with Nasrin’s mother as well do a great job exploring the various ways we respond to loss and grief and love. Sahar’s cousin Ali and his transexual friend Parveen round out the cast and offer Sahar a way to understand herself and her place in Iran’s strict cultural system. The ending was satisfying, realistic, but definitely a tear-jerker. I highly recommend this book. I very rarely read contemporary and yet I rate this one five stars.