Mini-Review: If You Could Be Mine

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Title: If You Could Be Mine By Author: Sara Farizan
Pages: 256
Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBTQ
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: August 20, 2013

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

My Thoughts: Sahar speaks from the heart and won my own heart in the process. Sahar and Nasrin are in such a difficult position, but Sahar refuses to give up without even trying. She looks for ways to change her situation with courage and hope.

I appreciated reading a book set in Iran. Sadly, I did not know many details about life in Iran. Readers certainly won’t become experts, but will at least have a picture in their head of Iranian people beyond what they may have seen on the news.

If You Could Be Mine presents a complicated romance and the coming of age of two young women.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Take advantage of this chance to meet Sahar and the people she loves.

Extras:
Interview with Sara Farizan

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Review: Eleanor and Park

eleanor and parkTitle: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 325
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: lovely local library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve heard so many good things about Eleanor and Park, so I just had to see for myself – plus, one out of two main characters is a cute half-Korean boy? Sounds like good times to me. (Also, all of Rainbow Rowell’s books have the sweetest covers! Is it sorcery?)

What I loved about the book is that it wasn’t what I expected. From all the hype and rave reviews I’d read of Eleanor and Park, I thought the book was a light and quirky love story — nope. Eleanor and Park have completely different families and lives, but their meeting on a bus (definitely not a stereotypical love-at-first-sight meeting) throws them into each other’s path.

Eleanor and Park’s alternating perspectives give the book a sense of balance. Park might be an outcast for being Korean, but that’s not the end of the story. While Park has a loving (though imperfect) family and a upper-middle class upbringing, Eleanor lives in poverty with her struggling family and abusive stepfather. The stark contrast between Eleanor’s life and Park’s is a strong reminder that oppression and privilege come in many different forms.

Sometimes, though, Eleanor’s view of Park and his cultural identity felt a bit irksome at times, and I had to remind myself that characters are allowed to grow. I read through the book, waiting for Eleanor to grow out of her problematic assumptions and point of view — and I’m not sure she ever did. The portrayal of Park’s family felt a bit off, as well. There were times when I began to question whether it was Eleanor herself who was ignorant and borderline racist, or the book itself that was problematic. (Edit: In retrospect, yeah, it was pretty problematic. No denyin’.)

To be honest, the sudden jump from tentative friendship to full-on romance was almost jarring. I felt that the emotional intensity of Eleanor and Park’s relationship inexplicable and a bit too much. (Then again, I find most romantic expressions trite, so I might just be a cranky cynic.) But, when I read the book in the context of Park’s comment about Romeo and Juliet, I found myself almost believing in Eleanor and Park’s grand and star-crossed love.

Recommendation: Just skip it.

Further Reading:
Rainbow Rowell’s post Why is Park Korean?
Clear Eyes Full Shelves: Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
A relevant take on racism: Angry Girl Review: Eleanor and Park
Ellen Oh: What’s your opinion on Eleanor & Park?

[Edit]:
In which I try to express the importance of asking questions (and not being afraid to call books out on being problematic): Is Eleanor and Park racist? And Other Questions to Ask

 

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New Release

I just finished reading this unique romance. I’ll be reviewing it on August 28th so check back for more feedback then.

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If You Could Be Mine By Sara Farizan

(Algonquin Young Readers)

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

Author Interview:

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Book Review: Long Division

long divisinoTitle: Long Division
Author: Keise Laymon
Genres: Literature/Contemporary
Pages: 267
Publisher: Bolden
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: On shelves now

 
I’m a Doctor Who fan, but I will admit that the timey-wimey stuff often gets me confused. I loved time-travel stories but I’m usually left scratching my head at the end because I just can’t make it work the linear way my mind wants me to. This feeling, this confusion, is what I had at the end of Keise Laymon’s debut novel. This is not a reflection on him as a writer, but everything on me as the reader.

 
While I was reading the novel, I enjoyed the adventures of the two main characters, both named City Coldson, but divided by 28 years. Long Division is a novel within a novel, and I wondered at the end if 1985 City was real, and not a character in a novel, or if 2013 City was real and not a character in a novel. I really hope that sentence makes sense, but if it doesn’t, that’s the complexity that is Long Division. The ending is a bit vague with the answers, leaving the reader to make up their own minds. I’d like to think both City Coldsons were real, but that would mean…oh my…*scratches head*

 
Moving on, Long Division is a novel about teenagers making sense of the racial inequalities in their world, as well as learning to be responsible for one’s actions, both positive and negative. Because it is a novel with time travel in it, the reader experiences life in 1964, 1985, and 2013. Making each of these time periods distinct, and the characters interactions during each of the time periods, is what Laymon does best. For example, I was a tween in 1985, therefore a number of the references 1985 City makes, how he speaks, is very true to the time period. Conversely, 2013 City reads just like one of my students. Laymon does a good job capturing the myriad of thoughts teenagers will have in a given moment.  This oftentimes led to some hilarious inner monologues and exchanges from both of the young men. Both 1985 City’s and 2013 City’s section are given to the reader in first person, so we are privy to the boys mixture of deep and mundane thoughts. And just like regular teens, these thoughts can go from deep to mundane in the blink of an eye. It was usually at those moments that I laughed the most.

 
The novel takes place over a series of days, but both 1985 City and 2013 City make the transition from boys to men in that short period of time, coming to understand the complexity of the effects of one’s decision and how it can have a lasting impact. I won’t give it away, but there is a moment towards the end where 1985 City has to make a decision that no adult would want, but he handles it with a maturity and grace that is absolutely beautiful.

 
Lastly, Long Division is not a novel where you can sit back and relax. You have to pay attention; notice the social commentary that Laymon drops subtly all throughout the novel. It is a very different type of Young Adult novel, but is one that teens are capable of finding, discussing, and examining the deeper meanings behind the words presented on the page. It is a novel that respects the teenage mind, while challenging them at the same time.

 

Recommendation: Get It Soon

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Mini-review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

ariTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Pages: 359
Genre: contemporary, romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: the lovely local library
Availability: February 21, 2012

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: When you read a lot, you realize that there are books — and then there are books — the sort that you want to throw at your friends and scream “READ IT! I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS!” This is that sort of book. The plot, characters, style — everything about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is done so well. You really get to know the two protagonists, Aristotle and Dante. There’s friendship, romance, family — everything you could want. The only teensy problem I had was with the ending, which felt sort of rushed and a little forced. But, aside from that, it was wonderful. Talk to me and I will gush about this book for ages.

Recommendation: Buy it now! It’s such a beautiful story.

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Review: Team Human

Team HumanTitle: Team Human
Author: Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 344
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Team Human works best if you are familiar with and have a fondness for vampires. Even though I’m only middling on both of those criteria, Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan did a great job of keeping my interest with Mel, their American Born Chinese protagonist.

What I find most fascinating about Mel is how, in a book from Cathy’s point of view, she would fit neatly into the Meddling Second Lead™ role. Most books and Korean television shows have trained me to despise such characters and their repeated attempts to break up True Love™, but I adored seeing the vampire romance play out from Mel’s point of view. The fact that Mel is motivated by genuine concern and fear for her friend (as opposed to romantic jealousy) helps a great deal in this regard. While I was occasionally annoyed by Mel’s insistence that she knew what was better for Cathy than Cathy did, I was still extremely sympathetic to her. In her place, I probably would have acted much the same after my best friend fell in love with and decided to become a vampire (which carried a 10% chance of death and a 10% chance of zombification) in a matter of weeks.

The other character standout was Kit, the vampire-raised human that Mel falls for. Kit’s backstory (and how some of his vampire family treated him) made me rather upset on his behalf and wishing for all sorts of bad fortune upon minor characters. Despite this, Kit was consistently a source of humor and awkward misunderstandings thanks to his lack of knowledge about human society. Some of these misunderstandings were brilliant and hilarious (kissing) and others were disappointingly easy to predict (promising to call).

The world building for this book was unexpectedly delightful, from therapists who deal with vampires who are having trouble transitioning to laws requiring smoked glass in all public buildings to block vampire-killing UV rays. I love that turning people into vampires is a regulated process requiring counseling and you-could-turn-into-a-zombie scare tactics. Mundane details like that really make this world feel like it could exist if vampires were real.

Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding Anna, her mother, and her missing father wasn’t something that held my attention very well. If Anna had been the narrator, I would have been more invested in it, but Mel was constantly distracted by getting in the way of True Love™ or establishing a loveline of her own. While I’m normally not much of a comedy person, I really wish that Team Human had focused more on the comedy/satire of the vampire genre and less on a mystery that I did not find compelling.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Ultimately, Team Human is a quick read, but it doesn’t have much staying power for me. It would be a great beach book for the last part of summer, especially if you are in the mood for some gentle mocking of vampire tropes.

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