Saturday, March 29, 2014

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

It's 1988 in Tehran, Iran, nine years after the 1979 Revolution that sent the Shah of Iran into exile and the country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, became the Supreme Leader of Iran.  For 15 year old Farrin Kazemi this meant living a lie.  On the first Monday of each month, her mother hosts a Bring Back the Shah Tea for Ladues of Culture, whose goal is to bring back the son of the Shah, since the Shah is already dead, and remove Ayatollah Khomeini.  Later, when the men join their wives there is dancing and alcohol, both illegal in the new Iran.  Farrin's family can afford many black market luxuries  like alchohol; her father is a successful businessman, building luxury homes, hiring illegal Afghans to do the building for little money and having them deported if they give him any trouble.

Farrin attends a private school for gifted girls.  The secret activites of her parents and her mother's attitude that those who support the Revolution are low-class rabble have left Farrin not just without any friends, but really disliked by Pargol, the power-weilding class monitor, who would like nothing better than to get Farrin in really serious trouble.

But then one day, Farrin hears beautiful music at school and discovers a new girl playing a santour, a forbidden instrument.  Her name is Sadira and by the end of the day, she and Farrin are friends.  And as time goes by, they discover they are attracted to each other beyond friendship.  But the girls must be extra careful.  Such things are illegal and the Revolutionary Guard is always on the look out for infractions of the country's strict laws.

The more Farrin and Sadira hang out together, the deeper their feelings for each other grow.  Farrin even feels she can trust Sadira enough to tell her about her mother's tea parties.  And finally, on a day the school is honoring an Iranian poet, Farrin chooses a is love poem to recite in assembly, hoping Sadira will understand it is her way of expressing her feelings.   When the assembly is abruptly ended, she recites the poem to Sadira when the two girls are alone in the gym.  Moved, the two girls embarce and kiss, just as Pargol enters the gym.

Needless to say, they are forbidden to see each other anymore.  And the principal strongly suggests to the parents that they should consider arranging a marriage for each girl - soon.  Still, Farrin and Sidera manage to find a way to write letters to each other.  But that just isn't enough.  An escape is planned and with the help of Farrin's family chauffeur, Sadira manages to sneak into her house during a tea party.  Planning to leave at daybreak, the girls fall asleep next to each other and that is how the Revolutionary Guard find them when they raid the house.

What's next for Farrin and Sadira in a country where their love is forbidden by law?

Farrin's story is based by the true story of an Iranian women that Deborah Ellis met, as she explains in her Author's Notes at the end of the book, a story that Ellis felt was important enough to tell.  Iran is a country where homosexuality is still punishable by death, as it is in seven other countries in the world.  In still other countries, it is punishable by imprisonment, as we have recently witnessed in Russia recently.  I think these events make Moon at Nine a story totally revelant in today's world, and not just an interesting piece of historical fiction.

That being said, I was a little disappointed in Moon at Nine.  Generally, I like Ellis's writing very much, but I found this book to be somewhat uninspired.  She presents us with a very concrete world, where everything is divided into good or bad.  The story is told from Farrin's point of view, and, for most of the story, I felt that she was a just spoiled brat who only wanted what she wanted and disregarded the possible consequences, rather than the strong-willed person I had expected.  I found when things got dangerous, I really didn't have much sympathy for her, and she didn't have much for anyone else other than herself and Sadira.  Sadira, on the other hand, seemed to be a strong girl who knew her own mind, until Farrin came into her life and suddenly she felt weak and disposable.  I started out liking her very much and, at the end, I did still feel some compassion for her.

Despite not liking this novel as much as I have liked Ellis's other works, for example, The Breadwinner books, I do think it is a very thought provoking and important books for teens to read, if only because it gives such a disturbing perspective of life in a very conservative country.  And it is definitely a welcome addition to the ever evolving body of LGBTQ literature.

NB: Following the Author's Notes is a very useful Book Club Reading Guide.  And, although Moon at Nine is a YA novel, there are some very graphic descriptions towards the end of the book.

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was received as an eARC from NetGalley

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