Moon at Nine - Deborah Ellis

    We are human beings with a right to choose for ourselves how we want to live. All we have is our lives. Each person gets just one. We owe our parents and the revolution our respect, but we don't owe them everything. And everything is what they want.
    I choose you, not just because you are wonderful and not just because you love me.
    I choose you because the act of choosing you belongs to me. It is mine, my choice, my free will.

Ellis's new novel, Moon at Nine, follows Farrin and Sadira as they meet, fall in love, and suffer the consequences under the conservative and fundamentalist rule of Iran. Though their parents, teachers, and classmates are all against them, their persistence leads them to try for a better life. But when Farrin is betrayed and the two girls find themselves facing the possibility of the death penalty, they need to decide if love is worth the cost.

The writing in Moon at Nine is solid. I use this word for a specific reason; there is nothing particularly wrong with Ellis's style, but there is also nothing (in my opinion) particularly outstanding, either. I think I admire the subject matter more than the writing itself. That being said, within the novel there are tragic moments, moments of suspense and fear, and a lot of frustration, especially from me on behalf of the two girls.

Farrin and Sadira don't have much time in which to develop their relationship, and while it could be said that it feels rushed, I also admit that being in such an oppressive society would probably lead to more of an explosion of feelings and such rather than a gradual exploration of emotions. As well, though the secondary characters such as the parents and the school principal felt rather flat, they definitely act as the embodiment of a very fundamentalist and different society from our own North American context.

The setting is 1988, though I didn't realize it until much later, after glancing at the end note. I felt as though the world building could have been a bit more thorough, giving the reader a more decisive idea of when the story is taking place. I realize it's based on a true story, too, so maybe that's why I expected more solid information to form a lens through which to read the rest of the novel. I was also unsure about various groups until later in the book, such as the different guards and rebels and such, and I would have liked a bit more information up front so my attention could have remained focused on the story of the girls.

On the note of it being "based on a true story," I do want to voice my concern about this story being told by a white, North American author, rather than more attention being paid to the person whose story it is. I am not of the opinion that this is something impossible to pull off successfully, but I often wonder about the suitability of privileged authors getting the praise for a story that someone else experienced and told to them. It seems it would be more appropriate to credit the individual, or give more emphasis of the individual's role in the storytelling/writing process. Such an act would be sure to have a greater impact on readers, especially concerning the idea that this is a real story and that being a lesbian in Iran is a pretty frightening thing. Perhaps I'm being too picky... I don't think so, but that's up to you, my readers, I suppose.

In the end, I wanted more of the relationship and less of the tragic ending, which I pretty much expected from the beginning. It felt slightly manipulative, and while I don't need every ending to be happy, after the last page I ended up feeling as though the book was written to tell us just how harsh life is over there, instead of being a book that could stand up entirely on its own. 

So, while I don't dislike the book, I keep finding myself questioning various components instead of being able to put it on my shelf feeling satisfied.

Recommended with Reservations

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