Publisher/Date: Algonquin Young Readers, Aug. 2013
Genre(s): Young Adult, Transsexual Issues
The hunger to have the girl you love is magnified tenfold in a country where women are kept covered and veiled, and same-sex love could mean your life. Sara Farizan depicts this longing in unadorned language in IF YOU COULD BE MINE, with anger and hurt expressed through Sahar, a 17-year-old Iranian girl willing to undergo a sex change to marry her best friend.
Sahar fell in love with Nasrin when they were six years old, Nasrin commanding Sahar’s heart with her bossy attitude, and now as high school seniors, it’s clear not much has changed, except the fact that Sahar no longer has her mother, who died five years prior. Her Maman was the one to whom she confessed her love for Nasrin, and was told to never speak of it again.
Yet Sahar pursued her dream girl, their love expressed in sweet kisses behind closed doors. Watching Nasrin dance to American songs while Sahar studies to get into university. Holding hands in the street (it’s considered innocent). Their secret love feels like child’s play in their fantasy world – especially after Nasrin is promised to an older wealthy suitor, a doctor no less. Sahar is heartbroken, and that’s when she gets the idea to have a sex change to stop this impending marriage from happening.
Surprisingly, sexual reassignment surgery is legal in Iran, and this is the route Sahar is willing to undergo to be with Nasrin. Her desperation is visible in the transsexual support group she visits to weigh her options, where she’s blinded the promise of what could be with Nasrin. Changing her gender is not necessarily what she wants, and who can blame her? She’s aware of the horrid way men treat women in her country, behaving by a rigid patriarchal code, but what else can she do to keep Nasrin to herself?
This is not an easy decision for Sahar, especially since she keeps her plans hidden from Nasrin, which nagged me as I read. If there’s anyone she’s supposed share everything with, it would be the girl she loves. However, it’s Sahar’s indecision (and the significant people her life) that dominate the book. A sex change is not something one can decide on a whim, especially in her case since it could create more problems than not. Not that I believe Nasrin, with her self-absorbed self, would appreciate it.
Goes to show teenage love is the strongest love (at least at the time). You’ll think you and your first girlfriend will be together forever, even when this love is trying on wedding dresses to marry someone else. Yet, Sahar has to come to this conclusion on her own. Her story graciously and truthfully captures those emotions: from giddyness, to despondency, to anger at not having the love seemingly perfect for her. However, the silver lining of Mine is that Sahar stays true to herself.
I enjoyed Farizan’s writing style in Mine – simple, profound – and creating such a brave, intelligent character like Sahar. I wonder if the author will venture revisiting Sahar in adulthood. I’m quite sure her story doesn’t end here.
Reviewed October 2013