A confession: I picked up If You Could Be Mine knowing only that it was about two teenage girls in love in Tehran. While homosexuality is a crime in Iran, transsexuals are tolerated if not enthusiastically embraced, so one of the girls contemplates sex change surgery for the chance to love without risk of death. I assumed the book would be grim and possibly preachy—how else could you tell a story with so much at stake? Thankfully, I could not have been more wrong. If You Could Be Mine is at once dazzling and funny and heartbreaking and wise.

Sahar and Nasrin have been best friends—and girlfriends—since early childhood. When Nasrin’s parents arrange a marriage for her, Sahar considers changing her gender in order to try to stop the wedding. The people she meets at a transgender support group question her motivation, but reluctantly offer their help. When one who comes to meet her at an underground gay bar is openly hostile to the crowd—it’s not just elitism but Muslim law that separates gay and transgender people—Sahar’s gay cousin Ali intervenes. When the woman explains she came to deliver hormones to Sahar, “Ali looks at me like I have just told him I have killed Britney Spears, Madonna, and Lady Gaga.”

A girl considers extreme lengths for love in Farizan's debut.

Things only get more difficult from there. Sahar’s relationship with Nasrin suffers as the wedding approaches, and at home she tries to wake her widowed father from a five-year period of mourning and detachment. Eventually she begins to carve out a new life for herself, and a new relationship with Nasrin.

This is Sara Farizan’s first novel, and what a debut it is. The Iran revealed through the eyes of her teenaged characters is a place of oppression and great risk, but the Ayatollahs are viewed as little more than cranky grandfathers. The West is regarded with a mix of awe at the freedom allowed there and disgust that it is so unappreciated.

Sahar and Nasrin’s circumstances differ from those of most Americans in drastic ways, but their love, heartbreak and redemption will resonate with anyone. If You Could Be Mine is a beautiful, compassionate, must-read novel.

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