Diversity in YA literature is a subject that bops around my big dumb head all time. I adore Young Adult literature and I’m so proud of the leaps and bounds I’ve watched it make during my short career as a librarian. Still, there’s much to be desired. I work in one of the most ethnically (and otherwise varied) cities in world. Sometimes I look at the best-selling teen titles and don’t see too many protagonists that look like the kids that hang around the Youth Wing. This troubles me, as it’s important to find yourself reflected in the literature you read AND equally important for teens to be exposed to other cultures and experiences.
Generally speaking, LGBTQ teen literature is considered diverse in its essence. However this facet of literature is still overwhelmingly white-washed. I hardly ever get to read about LGBTQ people of color. In fact, more often than not, I’m presented with a book about two white, middle-class gay male teenagers (typically, these boys tend not to be on the femme-y side). Lesbian protagonists are less common, but clearly not non-existant. I’ve been pleased to discover a few titles that speak to the transgender experience (some better than others) and I just finished a fantastic YA fantasy featuring an intersex protagonist. Forget bisexuals. Sorry, bisexuals! Maybe next year. What I’m saying is, I’m seeing similar experiences rehashed far too often.
Malinda Lo speaks to this much better than I ever could. I’m not going to bother linking to a specific article or posting one of her quotes, because there are way too many options to choose from. Just bop on over to her blog to access a number of more eloquently stated posts on the topic of diversity in LGBTQ teen literature (and teen literature at large).
All this brings me to If You Could be Mine, by Sarah Farizan, which will be published in August of 2013. Farizan introduces us to Sahar and Nasrin, who are in love. The premise of this book is vastly different than the typical LGBTQ literature I’m accustomed to reading. There’s no awkward coming out to friends and family here, as these characters don’t have that luxury. There’s no end-of-novel prom story or making out behind the bleachers. There’s not even the promise of living as an out lesbian as an adult. Sahar and Nasrin live in Iran where homosexuality is a crime.
There’s a palpable feeling of hopelessness and longing in If You Could Be Mine. Loneliness and desperation permeate every page. There are possible solutions, but none of them are easy or desirable. I don’t do summaries or spoilers, but here’s an excerpt:
“You’re staring again,” Nasrin says. She looks up from her nails and gives me a smile. I look down at my textbook and hope my face isn’t red, like all the other times Nasrin catches me watching her.
“Don’t you have homework?” I ask.
Nasrin just blows on her nails and rolls her eyes. “I’m not a genius like you, Sahar. I’m going to move to India and be a Bollywood actress.” She stands up and goes into one of her Indian dance routines. Nasrin is an excellent dancer and gets a group of girls together from her school to practice. They usually have me film them while they dance Persian, Arabic, or whatever other dance routines they have been working on…
If she spent as much time on her studies as she did her dancing, maybe we could end up at the same university, but I know that isn’t going to happen. Now that we are getting older, we only have a few more years left like this together. Things will change. Nasrin will have a lot of suitors. The men will line up on her block. All of the well to do Tehran will come to her family’s house, dressed in their best suits.
The suitors will have tea with Nasrin’s parents, and they will explain that they can provide her with a good life with whatever important and boring job they have. Her parents will pick the best man for her, meaning the one with the most money. Nasrin comes from a good family, and they have money themselves, so she will marry the best that there is…I don’t know when I am going to lose her, but it’s going to happen, and I don’t know if I will be able to handle it.
Nasrin finishes her dance, and her face falls when she sees mine.
“What’s wrong, Sahar joon?” she says. She’s always been able to read me, even when she doesn’t want to.
“I wish we could stay in this room forever,” I say. She grins.
“I want to marry you,” I say, and Nasrin looks at me with a sad expression that makes me feel helpless and pathetic.
“I know you do, azizam. We’ve talked about this.”
“I’ll find a way for us to be together.” I look her in the eye to let her know I mean it.
She bites her lower lip, as she’s done since she was little, and gently pulls at my hair. “We’re together now, Sahar. Let’s not waste time on what can’t be.”
~If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan, pgs. 5-8
It’s odd to say that I’m excited about a book that caused me this much heartache, but it’s true. If You Could Be Mine puts LGBTQ rights in a global perspective for teen readers. I’m certain it deserves a place in your library.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid