Synopsis: 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
Review: I really don’t know how to feel about this book, so I’ll probably keep my rating right down the middle at 3 stars. The main thought running through my head is that I should’ve let the summary sink in further before deciding to read the book or not. Instead I just saw characters from a diverse group I knew nothing about and figured I had to have the book.
This is a story set in Tehran, Iran following Sahar and her adventures of juggling her final year of high school and the pain of her best friend, Nasrin, getting married when they’ve been in a secret relationship for years. In Iran, loving someone of the same gender is punishable by death if caught. Interestingly, feeling as if your gender doesn’t match the one assigned to you at birth is seen as nature’s mistake. This means that medical care and procedures for transgender people are easily accessible and completely legal in Iran, which is something I hadn’t known before. Although, it’s not accepted by everyone. What this means for the plot is that transitioning to a man, despite never questioning her gender, becomes Sahar’s big, secret plan for her to be able to spend the rest of her life with Nasrin.
Sahar’s way of thinking of this is obviously problematic. Through most of the book I just wanted to sit Sahar down and say, “Honey, you’re not trans, you’re just confused.” And honestly, she was. When Sahar meets a transgender woman named Parveen, she gets the idea that she can simply go to the doctor, get some hormones, and be able to marry Nasrin, as she’s wanted to do her whole life. Luckily, when Parveen, her cousin Ali, and the others from the transgender support group the she attends find out that Sahar’s purpose for wanting to transition is rooted in the wrong reasons, they let her know that.
Still, I found myself uncomfortable with this storyline. I don’t know what to say about it, because, as explained above, Sahar’s mission to transition is toxic, but the book almost makes it sound like this is a common-ish occurrence in Iran. There’s another character, one of the others in the trans support group, who was forced to transition when their brother found out they were gay. So maybe it’s an unfortunately typical plot of gay people in this country, since being transgender is legal but being gay is not. Either way, it’s an interesting but troublesome point of view.
Whether or not the plot is deemed problematic, it’s still a rare look into the culture of Iran. Here in the United States, most people don’t know much about the country outside of the war and oppression that we hear about on the news. Not only was it interesting to see their LGBT culture and views, but their everyday customs. For example, Nasrin runs into trouble with the police when she’s seen in public with her shirt sleeves up too far, and there’s wedding planning throughout the book, so readers get to hear about Iranian wedding traditions.
Final thought: To transgender readers, please be aware that while there are accepting characters, there are also troublesome views in this book. Reader discretion is advised. To cisgender readers, please keep in mind that while these perspectives may be common in Iran, Sahar’s plan is problematic. However, this own voices representation is rarely seen in YA, and the writing style is nice as well. 3 stars.