Reviewed by Stephanie Dror
"First and most important, 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.
I choose you over my father. I choose you over my country.
And even if you decide you don’t want me, I still choose you.
Because in choosing you, I am choosing myself.”
– Letter written by Sadira to Farrin from Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis, page 151.
The Moon at Nine, set in Tehran in 1988 follows the story and the secrets of 15 year-old Farrin Kazemi. In a country at war with Afghanistan, in a time of revolution and upheaval, Farrin's life, and country, is shrouded with secrets and taboo. Her mother is a strong and dynamic character who fosters revolutionary aspirations to bring the Shah back into power, while her father has built his empire on the backs of free Afghan refugee labourers. At her all-girls school, every move that Farrin makes is watched her principal and lackey class monitor. She is unable to discuss her home life and ostracized by her classmates because she is rich. She endures these hardships, and is a bright, curious and creative girl who, rather than become too involved in politics at home or on the street, writes fictional stories about an Iranian girl who fights demons as a means of entertainment and escape.
As with her many other acclaimed novels such as The Bread Winner, Deborah Ellis manages to avoid stepping on cultural taboos through rigorous research and editing, and her story hits on universal themes such as family secrets, friendships, relationships and coming-of-age. Ellis transports her readers to a foreign land with a very different set of rules, where they can smell the streets and see their colours but also feel the fear and the anger of their people. Farrin remains separate from many of these hardships because of her status, and must only keep her head down and mouth shut, which, despite her willfulness, she does fairly well. That is, until she meets Sadira.
Sadira is not rich and used to do her homework under the streetlight with the other girls from her neighbourhood until the boys decided they needed the light more. Daily concerns like these are as new to Farrin as they are to the Western reader, and make this a very important book in terms of recognizing cultural differences, human rights, and entitlement. As Ellis introduces us to concepts of hardship, empathy, and friendship, Sadira introduces Farrin to these as well, and, eventually, to a loving relationship.
The tense but budding romance between Farrin and Sadira is instantaneous though not immediately recognizable. The drama of their romance does not overshadow the characters in the relationship but rather reflects on and illuminates who the girls are on the inside. Though their relationship is no more than your typical relationship between young people, beautifully told, its context and setting make it clear that their lives and reputations are at risk. If caught, the girls face a death sentence, regardless of their age or status.
The Moon at Nine is more than simply an LGTBQ novel or historical fiction. Like so many wonderful young adult titles today, it is a multi-faceted hybrid that can be enjoyed by both teens and adults. Driving the heart of the story home is the revelation that this book is based on a true story, inspired by an Iranian woman that Ellis met. Farrin and Sadira's story gives a voice to those who have been silenced and forgotten. It is powerfully grounded in the setting of Tehran, and depicts the beauty of falling in love and the cruelty and coldness of power in the hands of outside forces.
The Moon at Nine is published by Pajama Press.