Mr. S and I spent the morning helping out with setup for Buffalo's Pride parade. It was a fun volunteer opportunity that gave us a reason to be outside in beautiful weather around people having a great time, dancing, hugging, and wearing awesome outfits. I love Pride celebrations because they tend to be a ton of fun and really diverse. I was especially happy and grateful to be there given the book I just finished: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, the story of two Iranian girls in love. If you're looking for other YA books with LGBTQ characters, I put together a list of ones I've reviewed here, and Lee Wind maintains a much more comprehensive list here.
Before I get to my reviews, I have one more fun thing to share: the winner of my The Darkest Minds giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
What I Read This Week:
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received a free advance electronic copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I have to say, I was nervous to read this book. I love Code Name Verity so, so much that the idea of a companion novel freaked me out a bit--how could I read it without holding it up to Code Name Verity and finding it lacking? I was all ready to write things like, "Just because I didn't love this one AS MUCH as CNV doesn't mean it wasn't great!"
Then I got an email from Netgalley saying that Rose Under Fire was available for request, and all my nerves were forgotten in a desperate rush to read it as soon as humanly possible. (For the record: that initial email came six days ago, as I write this: one day for the publisher to approve my request, a very busy three-day weekend, and two days of work. This book is apparently 368 pages long, but I flew through it.)
Now that I've read it, I can safely say that I love it as much as I love Code Name Verity: I just love it differently. Rose's story is simpler; there are a lot of other people in her story, but it's not a dual story like CNV is. At the same time, it's a bigger story--it contains multitudes, if you'll permit me to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman. Code Name Verity told a World War II story I had never heard; Rose Under Fire tells a story that in parts feels like many other World War II stories I've read, but its focus, scope, and subject set it apart.
I don't really know how to write about the subgenre of fictional concentration camp narratives: comparing them against each other on their literary merits seems wrong. I will say that Wein's attention to detail, her ability to imagine characters complexly (borrowing now from John Green), and her choice of this particular group of women and girls all combined into a story I couldn't let go of. I also really appreciated the fact that the story continued: I can't remember another story that followed concentration camp survivors past the first day or two outside of the camp. That element of the story was actually the most moving to me: to see each of these characters processing her own experiences and trying to be in the world.
And, without giving too much away: I was overjoyed to see some characters from CNV again. I was sometimes surprised by how happy I was, actually. "Companion novel" is the right word for this: it's satisfying to readers who loved CNV, but it's not a sequel, and it's not a clone. It's a new story, just as well-told, but really stands strongly on its own.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a really interesting read for me, because I don't know much about day-to-day life in Iran. This book explores what it's like to be a teenage girl in Iran who's in love with another girl. Sahar and Nasrin have always been close, but as they grew up, their love for one another became romantic. When Nasrin's family arranges for her to marry a wealthy man, both girls know their stolen kisses must come to an end. In Iran, homosexuality is against the law, and Sahar knows that the safest thing to do is to stand back and watch as Nasrin marries the husband she doesn't love. After all, Reza is kind, smart, and rich: it would be hard to think of a better option.
But Sahar discovers one last chance to be with the woman she loves. While homosexuality is illegal, the government not only sanctions but pays for gender reassignment surgery. Sahar wrestles with the possibility of changing her own identity so that she can be the one to marry her first love.
As fascinating as I found much of this book, I didn't always feel connected to the characters. I think part of this is because we actually see very little of Nasrin and Sahar's relationship: by the time the book begins, they're already old hands at sneaking around, and they know an end is coming soon one way or another. I wish we had seen more of the relationship as it developed, because I think it would have helped me feel more of what they were going through. However, the circumstances were dire enough that the book held my interest even without that.
The relationship I found the most moving was actually not the central one between Sahar and Nasrin, but the one between Sahar and her father. Sahar's mother died when she was young, and her father has become a shadow of his former self. His gradual realization that Sahar needs him, and that he needs her, is a big part of the story, and the scenes between them were some of my favorites.
This is a book I would love to teach; I think it does a good job of showing different facets of life in Iran, including people with a range of beliefs and lifestyles. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for another perspective on love, marriage, and family.
View all my reviews