Jenny's Library

Reading Round-up 2013: week 45 – novels

Posted on: January 25, 2014

cover image for If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Sahar was six when she told her mother that she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.  Maman told Sahar to not to talk about such things, that the girls could always be best friends, but to marry would be a sin.  But Sahar’s love for Nasrin wasn’t something that she could outgrow or forget.  So Sahar and Nasrin hide how they feel from everyone but each other.

How long can two teenage girls kiss and profess their love in secret? And what choice do they have in a country where being discovered means jail or death?

There are a great number of things that I love about this book.  The first is, of course, the subject matter, and how it’s handled.  If You Could Be Mine is a story about first love, and what it’s like to fear losing it.  It’s also a story about identity and relationships, and the extent to which we are shaped by who we love, and what parts of ourselves we are willing to give up for that love.  And, of course, it’s also a story about what it’s like to be different in a culture that rejects those differences, often violently.  The book handles all of these topics with grace, and in particular does a wonderful job of showing that American views on sexuality and gender are not the only way of looking at things.

The second is that the rhythm and language used feels different from what I’m used to; which makes sense, considering that the book takes place in Iran.  There is something about it that doesn’t quite match the typical cadences of American speech and writing.  Neither does it feel like Farazin is trying too hard to capture the different rhythms of Farsi, it all flows very naturally. Nothing about feels off or wrong, it’s just different, and in a way that clearly communicates that this is Iran, not America – without framing the people and culture in the book as exotic or lesser.  (Although keep in mind that I’m hardly an expert on this topic.  I could be very wrong here.)

cover image for The Letter QThe Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves edited by Sarah Moon

Just as the title says, this is a series of short letters (and a few comics) written by queer writers and addressed to the teens they used to be.  The intended audience actually consists of teens today (of course) and the letters reflect that in they way they consider how things have changed – and haven’t changed – for queer youth over the past several decades (or more).

There is an overall  “it gets better” tone to the book,  what with the letters being written by successful writers and all, but it thankfully lacks the condescension that can sometimes creep in when telling kids to hang in there.  Instead, a sense of wonder permeates the letters, as the writers reflect on the dreams they had when they were young, and marvel at how excited (or possibly disappointed) their younger selves would be to see what they will become.  The letters also cover a wide range of experiences and life paths and acknowledge that the teen years do not have a monopoly on pain, nor does adulthood have a monopoly on joy.  Thus presenting queer youth with roadmaps for the future and into a world in which they are not alone.

cover image for The ClearingThe Clearing by Heather Davis

Amy moved to the country and in with Aunt Mae to get away from the her past, specifically: an abusive boyfriend.  Henry fears the future – and what his brother’s death will do to his mother and grandfather.  They live in the same town, yet it’s impossible that they would ever meet, as Amy lives in the 21st century and Henry is stuck in 1944.  But something happened the day the letter came to Henry’s house, and now his family – what’s left of it – lives in a never-ending summer.  When Amy crosses through the fog and into Henry’s life, he begins to think that maybe it’s time to face the future after all.  And Amy starts to think that maybe she’s strong enough to face her past as well.

This was an odd book, but not a disappointing one.  I found myself asking “what? how? why?” a lot when it came to Henry’s predicament, but the main characters complimented each other well, and the ending was satisfying without being…well, any more credulous than the premise.  I’m not sure how strongly I would recommend this specific book, or who I would suggest it to, but I am interested in reading more by this author.

cover image for JaranJaran by Kate Elliot

As the younger sister and only living relative of Charles Sorenson, a duke in the alien Chapalli Empire, Tess is heir to wealth and power.  But this is not the life she wants, so when she finds herself stranded on a planet outside of Chapalli control, she finds it tempting to take her time returning home, and enjoy life with the Jaran, the nomadic people who find her and take her in.  Except that Tess’ own arrival via a Chapalli spaceship is proof of their disregard for the treaty that places the planet Rhui out of their control, and she fears the Chapalli may have plans for Rhui, ones with dire consequences for both her brother and the Jaran.

Jaran is a very different kind of science fiction, one focused on empires and culture and not just aliens and changes in technology.  It also manages to look at these themes from both an intimate and wide angle perspective.  I definitely recommend it; I enjoyed it and look forward to reading the rest of the series.  But there were parts of it (mostly concerning the romance between Ilya and Tess) that would have had me worried if I didn’t already trust the author, so that might be useful to keep in mind.

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