I was a little worried to start this book, actually. If You Could Be Mine is a book about two teenage girls in love in Iran. Homosexuality is illegal, but sex changes are legal and even partially funded by the government. The questions is, how far will Sahar go to be able to stay with Nasrin, the girl she’s been in love with since she was six?
If this looks like it could go badly, I would definitely agree. A book about a cisgender lesbian trying to get a sex change surgery as some kind of easy way out, or “in” to heterosexuality? It seemed like it would be hard to keep that from appearing transphobic. Personally, I think that this novel toes the line pretty well, though I would not try to defend it from this sort of criticism, especially from trans people. There are, however, trans characters in the book, and although they are not portrayed entirely positively (the “she has big hands” comments made me cringe), they do seem like real people. Additionally, I don’t think we’re really supposed to think that this is a good idea. I began to feel like you do watching a horror movie: “What are you doing?! Don’t go through that door!” You know that it’s a terrible idea, but you can’t help but keep watching. And you do sympathize with Sahar as well, because she is desperate and it’s an unfair situation. A later reveal makes this strategy seem all the more doomed, so I do think that we’re supposed to disagree with Sahar’s plan, and that it is deliberate.
With that out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised by this story. The writing is engaging, and both Sahar and Nasrin are interesting characters. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Nasrin, but I think she’s a realistic character. Also, that pattern on the front cover is also on the first page of each new chapter, and that combined with this book being slightly shorter and wider than usual, it makes for a nice design change. The arc of the story makes sense, and although it isn’t particularly fast-paced or packed with action, it is easy to read and compelling. Even the minor characters are intriguing and don’t just seem like cardboard background pieces. It is also a nice change to read a teen lesbian book set in Iran, when almost all lesbian books I’ve read have been white and set in North America or Europe, though of course it is hard to read about living in a country where being gay can still get you killed. I haven’t read a lot about Iran, so I can’t say how accurate the depiction is, but the author is the daughter of Iranian immigrants. Especially considering my reservations, I ended up really liking this book, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested.