An American teenager learns about love and loss in the midst of 1978’s Iranian Revolution.
Seventeen-year-old Annie Patterson is a member of the quintessential American military family, with her mother; older sister, Debbie; and younger brother, Frankie, never staying too long in one place, ever at the whim of her lieutenant colonel father’s next Air Force assignment. Their newest destination is Tehran, a far cry from the Midwestern life they were only just settling into. Culture shock isn’t Annie’s only worry, however, as rebellion has begun to stir in Iran, and unbeknown to her or even her father, 1978 is the year in which Islamic and leftist revolutionaries will depose the Western-backed shah and install Ruhollah Khomeini as the grand ayatollah. As dissension and anti-American sentiment creep in around the edges of her new life, Annie still finds much about Iran to fall in love with, from its rich history to the daily, haunting beauty of the call to prayer and the stirring poetry of Forough Farrokhzad. But most alluring is the motorcycle-riding “Urban Cowboy” Amir, who catches the eyes of both Annie and Debbie and whose bravery in the face of his own countrymen’s anger may be all that protects the Patterson girls. Heath’s debut novel immerses the reader in Iran on the cusp of its historically unexpected revolution, from the fantastical bazaars to the competing ideologies of its Western modernization and Islamic orthodoxy. Though not a thriller in the traditional sense, there is rising suspense throughout the story, with Annie’s mother’s quiet nervousness, long gas lines, and the initially more inconvenient than frightening curfews slowly giving way to riotous demonstrations, vandalism, terrorism, and home invasions—all directed at Americans and the shah’s regime. Annie functions as a strong narrator, the story told solely from her perspective, allowing teenage romance to retain the same dramatic importance as cultural insurrection, while remaining surprisingly nonjudgmental about the uprising’s circumstances (no black-and-white villains here). The only downside is that Annie’s reserved nature often leaves her isolated inside the Pattersons’ plush Iranian home, while the adventures of Debbie, who, while more self-involved, is much quicker to engage with Iranian culture, are only relayed secondhand.
Suspense and romance join cultural upheaval in Tehran to help capture a unique moment in world history.