A historical YA novel set in 1977 Tehran.
Alkofer’s debut describes events leading up to the Iranian Revolution from the point of view of a young American. Just before the start of her freshman year of high school, Lizzie McCall’s family moves to Tehran, Iran. Her father’s job as a defense contractor has brought them to the Middle Eastern city. Lizzie is determined to do well in school both academically and athletically in order to get into Yale. She also seems determined to live the life of a normal teenager. In an apartment building filled with Westerners and attending Tehran American High School, she’s somewhat sheltered from the way of life of average Iranians. However, through people like their housekeeper and the young man who serves as the apartment building’s maintenance man, Lizzie is exposed to some of the issues affecting Iranians in 1977. Meanwhile, thanks to the shared phone line in their building, she’s busy playing spy and listening in to the mysterious conversations of their Israeli-American neighbor. When violence erupts in the city, Lizzie’s whole life changes as the city she had enjoyed living in becomes frightening and dangerous. The book is a mixture of descriptions of ordinary teenage events, such as going on dates and hanging out with friends, and sometimes exciting events outlining Lizzie’s attempts at espionage or the historical changes taking place in the city. The novel, framed by Lizzie looking back on the events from later in life, tends to sag with long-winded passages such as, “Miss O’Connell is my French teacher and also the soccer coach. I met her the first week we moved here. She coaches the Pars Club swim team, and her husband is the tennis pro. Caroline took a few lessons from him.” Despite this, the book speeds along and realistically describes the events—some mundane, some shocking—that Lizzie experiences while living in Iran.
A sympathetic protagonist and abundance of historical details mitigate this novel’s shortcomings.