Sunday, 15 March 2015

If You Could be Mine by Sara Farizan

Twitter Username: SaraFarizan
Publish Date: August 20th 2013
Publisher: Alqonquin Young Readers
Format: Audiobook, Unabridged
Narrated By: Negin Farsad

Sahar is sixteen-years-old and in love with her best friend, Nasrin. They share secret kisses and promise each other their love. The problem is that they live in Iran, and homosexuality is forbidden under the threat of hanging. Then it comes to light that Nasrin has a marriage arranged by her family. Nasrin wants to continue the secret affair, but Sahar wants Nasrin exclusively. Sahar discovers a loophole in the law for them to be together, but the journey to that conclusion is complicated.

            At first, I was weary of a narrator with a strong accent. My hearing isn’t always the best, and I knew there would be an abundance of unfamiliar words. As the chapters went on I was surprised that I was enjoying her voice and that I had no problems. Farsad delivers all her lines with the correct emotion, and she does dry humour very well. She is of Iranian decent, born in the United States, so I believe her voice to be authentic (as opposed to an English speaker attempting to impersonate and fail miserably).

Love Story
            The two main women are beautifully written for each other. Nasrin is confident and occasionally the target of the morality police because of her flashy clothes. Sahar is more conservative and she is intelligent. I can definitely see why they would fall in love. Of course, each has their pit falls. Nasrin is selfish. Sahar believes she can fix everything herself. A perfect couple? Of course not, but who are? Perhaps they are staying with each other because they have been together since they were children and perhaps because they are the only lesbians they know (highly probable for most of the book). What we do have is a couple that want to be together in a country that has forbidden their love.
That said, I don’t think I have ever disliked a love interest more than I have disliked Nasrin. But before everyone starts hating on Sahar for her target of affection, I bet most people have had a partner that they loved and a lot of people hated. It’s the eye of the beholder.
But Nasrin did aggravated me. As much as I wanted to pull my hair out at her stupidity, she is well-written. I get why she does most of the things she does, even if I hate her decisions. As I wanted Sahar to succeed I felt like Nasrin was the one impeding change and it was so frustrating in a good way.

Cousin Ali
This charismatic man is my favourite character. Sure, he’s a convenient character, another homosexual in Iran who knows the ropes and who has enough power in the underground to keep himself and his friends safe. I still like him – he does want everyone to be happy as they are. A little too easy going, but he’s an interesting layer in this story. And he is funny – my favourite line was when he said Sahar should leave and go to Turkey to find a particular kind of woman.
Spoilers Ahead!
It is true that Sahar has no idea what she’s getting into, though I argue that the information must be difficult to come by. While it is not illegal to get sex reassignment surgery, it probably isn’t widely accepted, so you can’t just ask your parents about it. Sahar is desperate, and yes, her plan could work, and that’s what gives this novel the extra layer. It is plausible. What if she goes through with it? Will Nasrin still love her? Will Sahar’s family still love her, or will they shun her?  
Topics for discussion or a paper could be gender identity in an oppressive society or LGBTQ love in an oppressive society. These are fairly obvious topics, but there is so much content here. Plus, this novel takes place in modern-day Iran, so a student can do a lot of research about Iran and its policies. Something interesting that can be written about is a person’s ties to a country that is oppressing them – if they leave, stay to make it better, or stay and live with how the country is.

 Book Club
            An older audience would be the best audience for this. I have seen reviews of people saying that it is inappropriate for middle-graders, and I have not seen anything saying that this book is marketed towards middle-graders. It’s like taking Hamlet and getting huffy about it not being suitable for kindergarteners. Have you read the back of the book?
            Also, you should probably know your book club audience because of the subject matter.
            Something interesting for a book club would be to also have a display of Iranian architecture, clothing, and food, like those mentioned in the book, around the book club meeting space. This could perhaps cross some of the cultural barriers we have. This book lacks description about how Iranian society is visually, and pictures could be an excellent accompaniment. 

Spoilers Ahead! (And a bit of a rant.)
To anyone who wants to argue that Sahar should have left to Istanbul with Ali…she doesn’t want to leave her father. She also believes that Iran is her home, and she doesn’t want to abandon it. And ultimately, she doesn’t want to leave Nasrin either, even if she can’t have her. I’m not sure why this confuses people. It would be hard for me to leave too. There are many people, especially women, who will explain why people stay in situations that are not ideal or even dangerous.  
A book isn’t going to end the way you want it so it will suit you. Personally, I loved the ending because it was so bittersweet. The last 30 minutes or so of audio gave some small hope to Sahar, even though it is still not an accepted relationship in Iran. I think she can be happy and wow that make me happy for her.

Final Verdict
            I listened to If You Could be Mine as an ebook, but I think I should have first experienced it as a paper book to get the language ingrained in my head properly, though listening to the proper pronunciation was helpful. I was rooting for Sahar even though I didn’t know if she should follow through with her plan or not – I just wanted her and Nasrin to be happy. I highly recommend this book to older teens or teens that are interested in LGBTQ relationships or issues, or oppressive governments. However, be cautious with the subject matter.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

If I Stay Series

Published: April 5th 2011 
Publisher:  Dutton Juvenile /Penguin Audio
Series: If I Stay
Format: Audiobook, Unabridged
Narrated By: Dan Bittner

Quick Review

Three years after the end of Mia and Adam’s relationship, Adam happens upon one of Mia’s concerts and watches her play her cello. They rekindle their friendship, not talking about what has happened, even though Adam needs to know why Mia abandoned him.

            Where She Went is different than its predecessor in many ways. The focus is so different, it’s hard to say if I would have enjoyed it if I had never read If I Stay. If I Stay has an interesting mix of character drama and the afterlife (without there actually being any definite afterlife). Where She Went lost most of the intrigue about being in limbo. Sure, the book tries, giving glimpses into Mia’s opinions/feelings about her experience and the death of her family, but it falls flat. What it does well mirrors what the first book also did well – character-driven drama.

            Instead of the protagonist being Mia, this book was from Adam’s first-person POV. Mia didn’t stand out to me, but Adam and the book’s narrator, Dan Bittner, was much better. I find Adam has more personality than Mia, even though he can be creepy, at least he is interesting. Three years is a bit long to be hung up on someone, though. Maybe so much time shouldn’t have passed, though the author probably had to have her graduated or near graduation for this story to work. Adam lives in a self-destructive world that gets old really quick, and there are three whole years to listen/read about. Adam isn’t like other people with usual ex-partner situations, where you acknowledge that they are probably living and probably happy but you couldn’t care less either way. And this is Adam’s problem; a student could write an interesting paper about the unhealthy relationship they hold on each other.  

            I hated Mia in this book. Her decisions and her actions hurt Adam, and you can criticise Adam for handling it poorly all you want, but the fault falls on Mia for being a terrible person. People break up all the time, and at least one person is usually crushed. But, Mia, seriously? I couldn’t believe what she did. It didn’t fit her character either, but the reader is blindsided as much as Adam was, so that experience is realistic.
What I did like was how Mia became the antagonist. Yes, there are other characters that are halting Adam’s progress (in life), but Mia is the worst figure here, even though she is presenting herself as her familiar, sweet self.

            Perhaps it is Adam’s cynical thoughts and reckless behaviour, but I liked the writing more in Where She Went. Even when he scared me when he thinks this:
“And I have to fight the urge to take her by the shoulders and slam her against a shuttered building until we feel the vibrations ringing through both of us. Because I suddenly want to hear her bones rattle. I want to feel the softness of her flesh give, to hear her gasp as my hip bone jams into her. I want to yank her head back until her neck is exposed. I want to rip my hands through her hair until her breath is labored. I want to make her cry and then lick up the tears. And then I want to take my mouth to hers, to devour her alive, to transmit all the things she can’t understand.”

Crazy? Yes. Interesting? Yes. It was creepy to listen to when I was walking home at night in the city. 

Final Verdict
Read this book if you really want to close the story from If I Stay. This book lacks the wonderful ambiguity that made readers think about the afterlife, if Mia should choose to live or pass on, and if she should stay with Adam. While I like Dan Bittner’s delivery and I like Adman’s cynicism, there was a lot of whining coming from Adam. There is only so much a reader can take. I wonder though, if this is because I am an adult now, and some books that I loved as a teen I can no longer stand now (cough*Palahniuk *). Maybe I would have found him more tolerable as a teen – and maybe this is a voice that teens will love, it’s hard to say. For a book club pick, I’d only use it if previous participants really loved the first one and they really want to read the next one together.