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? (blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: PG-13, 4 1/2 stars
Trigger warnings: homophobia, transphobia, body dysmorphia, child prostitution
This book actually frustrated me quite a bit, but only in the sense that I wanted to reach through the book and shake Sahar several times. It was very difficult for me to understand how she could be so in love with Nasrin that she would “fake” being trans*, even to the point of undergoing surgery. This frustration wasn’t a bad thing, though. It was fascinating to follow Sahar’s journey, despite how uncomfortable it made me. I also appreciated the fact that the book told the story of a queer teen who isn’t living in White America, which is something that I think a lot of LGBTQ YA does.
This was a really different book for me to read compared with other LGBTQ YA because the culture is so different. It is a contemporary setting non-Western setting, which I think places it in a really unique position. If my memory serves me, this is the first book I’ve read that clearly checks both those boxes. The non-Western-set books I can think of are speculative, and while there is value in building a speculative world around queer culture, I think there’s a different sort of value to taking a contemporary non-Western (and more specifically, a non-American) culture and really delving into what that means for queer-identified characters.
I liked that the setting and overall concept allowed this book to escape so many tropes, not just of queer YA, but of YA fiction in general. This wasn’t a coming out story. From the very beginning, Sahar and the reader know that she is gay. So she isn’t coming to terms with her own sexuality, and the cultural restrictions mean that she can’t safely broach the topic with most of the people in her life. *SPOILER ALERT* I also enjoyed how the book sidestepped the overused YA trope of “protagonist ends up dating forever their first true love.” There are times when I enjoy the trope, but even then I recognize that it’s overused, and it’s so refreshing to see something different. *END SPOILER*
Overall, I just really enjoyed the book. It made me cry (big surprise), and I definitely can’t wait to read the author’s next book.