Beautifully written and quietly powerful, Deborah Ellis’ Moon at Nine is not an easy book to read. Based on actual events, this story of two brave young women who are faced with a life and death choice is likely to leave you gutted, angry and disappointed, which is of course exactly as it should be. Ellis is a social activist who has dedicated her life to speaking for the millions of oppressed, underprivileged and often forgotten children and young people in our world. In this young adult novel set in post-revolution Iran, Ellis turns her attention to the plight of LGBTQ young people living in countries that view their love as dangerous, criminal and unnatural. In a country that already limits the rights and freedoms of women, the simple and beautiful act of falling in love is enough to potentially sentence two innocent teenagers to death. They are forced to choose between denying their true selves or facing imprisonment and execution by hanging.
More than anything, Moon at Nine made me angry. Angry that there are children, teens and adults around the world for whom this is their everyday reality. Denied the opportunity to express themselves freely and without fear of repercussion, countless individuals around the world are forced to live without love, or do so in secret.
Most of the LGBTQ YA novels I’ve read have been set in the United States or Canada, so it is interesting to see the lives of young people in other countries represented. Whenever we start to take our rights and freedoms for granted, or begin to rest on our laurels, it’s helpful to be reminded that there is still so much work to be done to bring equality to all people in the world.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Moon at Nine, one of the most beautiful pieces about choice I have yet come across, which is taken from a letter written from one of the young women to her love:
But 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.
– Jane Whittingham is a children’s librarian with the Vancouver Public Library, and a Co-Convenor of the BCLA-LGBTQ Interest Group.