It’s 10 years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the Iran-Iraq War has been going on for almost that long. Fifteen-year-old Farrin has grown up in relative comfort, with access to black market music and television—she’s an especially big fan of Kolchak: The Night Stalker—and she spends her free time writing stories about a girl demon hunter. Even though she finds her mother’s efforts to bring the royal family back to power somewhat ridiculous—tea parties and illegal booze don’t seem to pose much of a threat to the Ayatollah's rule—she lives in fear of the day that the Revolutionary Guard will burst through the door and arrest them all for treason.
And then she meets Sadira, the new girl at school. Sadira is brave, quick-witted and kind, and as they get closer and closer, Farrin’s view of whole world changes, outside and in. Loving each other is punishable by death, but the only other option would be to live without one another…and neither girl feels capable of that.
Deborah Ellis’ Moon at Nine is spare, frank, and it’s narrated in an emotionally distant voice. She depicts the culture and history—including aspects that will seem contradictory and/or unsettling to some, like an active respect for educated women as long as they keep themselves and their educated minds in their “proper” place; as well as mentions of the United States’ relationship with Saddam Hussein—without comment. That might seem like an odd choice, given the subject matter and the fact that it’s based on a true story, but it was the RIGHT choice: Ellis doesn’t embroider it with her own commentary or flowery bits, and in so doing, she allows the story to speak for Farrin and for itself. It isn’t “just” a love story, either: It’s a story about power—political, familial, social, financial, strength of arms—and about what the haves are willing to do to the have nots. (Answer, in case you’re wondering: usually, nothing good.)
It’s a book that will likely end up in the Important Book category—books that get taught in school or get used in book groups—rather than in the Best-selling Book category, which is unfortunate. Farrin and Sadira’s story is one that deserves to be heard, and as it’s just one of many, it deserves to be heard all the more widely. While it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a sequel, I do hope for one—while the book certainly stands alone, it left me with a BUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?-shaped hole in my chest.
Related books I need to read:
If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan: This one is also set in Iran, but in the present day. An engagement seemingly dooms a love affair between two girls, so one of them begins to explore the possibility of sex-reassignment surgery in the hopes that it will ultimately create a legal way for the two of them to be together.
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi: I’m so embarrassed that I still haven’t read this memoir. It’s in comic book format, and tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood and young adult years in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and beyond. It’s been lauded, challenged and even made into a movie, and yet I still haven’t made the time for it! Sigh. Bad librarian, no cookie.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.