Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“I am terrified that she will tell someone about me and rob me of my privacy and my choice to tell or not tell my friends and family this fact of who I am.”
Leila Azadi is a lesbian, but she has done a pretty good job of keeping this fact a secret from her friends and classmates at Armstead Academy. Everyone thinks her best friend Greg is her boyfriend, and this allows her to fly under the radar. If only Greg didn’t want to actually be her boyfriend, everything would be perfect. But with the arrival of Saskia, a beautiful and sophisticated student from Europe, Leila finds herself with a crush on a classmate for the first time. The harder she falls for wild and independent Saskia, the more difficult it is to keep her secret, not just from her classmates and teachers, but from her traditional Iranian parents, and her perfect older sister, Nahal. Confused by Saskia’s mixed signals, Leila begins to reach out to friends and family, but as the truth starts to spread, Leila finds herself losing control of her coming out process.
Following her first novel, If You Could Be Mine, about a young lesbian couple growing up in Iran, Sara Farizan’s second book turns to something closer to home, exploring the tension between Leila’s tradition Iranian family, and her more liberal American upbringing. Farizan’s socially conscious novels explore issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality with sensitivity and nuance. She upends expectations with a diverse cast of secondary characters that are full of surprises. Indeed, it was watching the relationships between the different characters unfold that really carried the story. Leila misjudges many of her friends and family members, but Farizan gives them much more depth than Leila initially gives them credit for. The stand-out feature of this novel is Leila’s slowly rekindled relationship with her childhood best friend, Lisa, who cut her off when she transferred to Armstead two years before Leila. Unfortunately, this strength only becomes apparent as the novel progresses, and undoubtedly many people will put the book down without ever getting that far. Farizan’s writing style is still somewhat simplistic; the plot development is rather blunt, and the scene changes can be extremely abrupt. Overall, her style would be better suited to a middle grade story than a young adult narrative, but her topics and protagonists remain firmly rooted in YA territory.
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