Moon at Nine Reviews

Quill & Quire **Starred Review**

MoonAtNine_C_Oct5.indd“With her multiple award-winning works of fiction and non-fiction, Deborah Ellis has introduced readers to the harsh realities of life for youth around the world. Her latest novel, based on a true story, is another powerful, realistic tale that will capture the attention of teen readers.

In Moon at Nine, Ellis expertly weaves the politics, religion, and culture of 1988 Iran into the story of Farrin, a 15-year-old girl who obediently tries not to draw attention to herself. Her family’s wealth and support for the Shah put her at odds with the other girls at her Tehran school. When a new girl named Sadira arrives at the school, Farrin finds it impossible to maintain her low profile.

Sadira is irreverent, studious, and challenging. Most of her family was killed in a bombing and she now lives with her father in a small apartment. This austere existence contrasts with the lavish lifestyle maintained by Farrin’s family. Still, the girls become fast friends, and find their feelings developing slowly and realistically into love.

Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, and Ellis carefully handles the cultural taboos and legal restrictions of lesbian relationships. When the nature of Farrin and Sadira’s involvement comes into question, the girls’ lives change drastically. Farrin’s grandmother suggests a hasty engagement and marriage. Classmates are charged with policing the girls’ conduct, and when a secret kiss is observed at school, all contact between them is prohibited. The title comes from a pact made by the girls before they are separated—and eventually imprisoned—to look at the moon every night at nine o’clock, knowing the other is doing the same.

Moon at Nine is a riveting tale of young girls being true to themselves and their love, set against a political and cultural backdrop few readers will have first-hand knowledge of. Ellis once again proves she is a master storyteller. Readers will remember Farrin and Sadira long after the final page has been read.”
—Ken Setterington, author of Stonewall Honor Book Branded by the Pink Triangle

Horn Book

“In 1988 Iran, wealthy fifteen-year-old Farrin avoids anything that could draw attention to her family; she knows her mother’s anti-Ayatollah political gatherings could bring trouble. However, Farrin’s burgeoning friendship and then romance with new girl Sadira leads her to become more inquisitive and involved in the world around her, and eventually leads to the couple’s discovery and persecution. Ellis skillfully introduces readers to the social and political backdrop, showing in troubling detail how fear, suspicion, and historical animosities fragment Farrin’s world and limit her freedom…the social struggle element is more hard-hitting [than those in Farizan’s recent If You Could Be Mine (rev. 11/13)] with a harrowing climax and a realistically bleak ending (both of which may also be a function of this title’s earlier setting). Secondary characters provide fascinating windows into other perspectives and call attention to Iran’s heterogeneity, creating a multidimensional portrait of corruption and cruelty, resistance and compassion. Set in the final days of the Iran-Iraq war and based on a true story, this novel sheds light on an important chapter in history and the people who experienced it firsthand.”
—Claire E. Gross

School Library Journal

“The daughter of wealthy Iranian parents, 15-year old Farrin earns top scores at a prestigious school in 1988 Tehran. Her parents remain loyal to the ousted Shah, so Farrin knows the importance of keep morphs into a romantic relationship, for which both girls could face death. Set during the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini, Moon At Nine is based on real women who feing a low profile. One day, Farrin meets a new classmate, Sadira, who plays forbidden music on a prohibited instrument in a closet at school. Farrin and Sadira become fast friends who enjoy subversive literature and music despite the tough restrictions imposed by the Iranian government. Before long, Farrin and Sadira’s friendshipll in love in a country where homosexuality is still against the law. Sparse and eloquently-written, this short historical novel is both beautiful and heartbreaking. The subject matter and writing style will appeal most to older teens and adults who likely have a better understanding of the political history of Iran. Sadira and Farrin’s relationship is believable, as is the girls’ undying determination to stay together at all costs. While homosexuality is important to the plot, the book is relatively tame, containing no profanity and nothing beyond hand-holding and a few kisses. A four-page Author’s Note provides necessary historical background and insight into worldwide persecution of homosexuals today. Give this to fans of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead, 2007) or Latifa’s My Forbidden Face (Miramax, 2003).”

Kirkus Reviews

“In a novel based on a true story, two teen girls fall in love and face harsh political fallout in post-revolution Iran.

Readers learn the basics of 1980s Iran’s political situation from context and light exposition. Farrin’s family is wealthy, and her mother hosts Bring Back the Shah teas and parties with illicit alcohol. Farrin’s mother discourages her from making friends…When Farrin meets Sadira, however, the two become fast friends, and their bond soon grows. Then, just after the war with Iraq has ended and the new regime is cracking down at home, an officious class monitor catches the two girls kissing and reports them. The consequences are both chilling and tragic…[T]he portrait painted of 1980s Iran’s political climate—and in particular the situation of gay and lesbian people and political prisoners—is haunting.”

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Booklist

“Fifteen-year-old Farrin lives with secrets. It is 1988, and Farrin’s wealthy parents are conspiring to install the Shah’s son to the throne. That is their secret; hers is even more dangerous. She is in love with Sadira, the new girl in school, who returns her feelings even though homosexuality is regarded as a crime punishable by death in Iran. When the Revolutionary Guard discovers them together, the girls are taken to prison and threatened with execution. How can they possibly survive?…it is inarguably powerful, and readers will identify with the two star-crossed girls who are victims of what seems to be an inhumane government. In an appended author’s note, Ellis chillingly reports that more than 4,000 lesbian and gay Iranians have been executed since 1979. A book study guide is included and will help encourage much needed discussion.”

Publishers Weekly

“…The girls become romantically involved, a crime punishable by death. Inspired by the life of an Iranian woman Ellis met (“This story is essentially hers,” she notes), the novel powerfully depicts lives pulled apart by outside forces and the warmth of falling in love. A firm grounding in Iranian history, along with the insight and empathy Ellis brings to the pain of those whose love is decreed to be immoral and unnatural, make this a smart, heartbreaking pairing with Sara Farizan’s recent If You Could Be Mine.”

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International Reading Association

“…Adapted from a true story, this novel takes readers into intimate lives of same-sex relationships in a country which still enforces traditional and religious beliefs. While many places around the world are promoting gay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage, there are still many places considering homosexuality an unspoken issue. This is a thought-provoking story inviting readers to ponder the interplay of cultural, moral, and sexual issues in different countries around the globe.”

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Plenitude Magazine

“Like a conscientious hiker, Deborah Ellis treads skilfully through the historical terrain of her thirtieth work, Moon at Nine. The revolutionary tumult of 1980s post-shah Iran might not seem like fertile territory for a YA novel with queer and feminist themes, yet Ellis’s superbly crafted storytelling weaves together the ensuing political chaos with a teenage girl’s struggle to find her place within her restrictive society in a way that reveals the YA genre as capable of more than it is usually given credit for. That Ellis is so comfortable spinning so many plates at once is a testament to her authorial skill; that not one of these plates falls is what makes Moon at Nine such a cracking piece of literature.

…Moon at Nine is the romantic adventure tale longed for by queer teenagers prowling the school library for stories that more closely resemble their own. The novel’s foreign and historical setting are brought to life by Ellis’s energizing prose, and each character is fully realized as a layered human being attempting to negotiate and survive an oppressive political regime. While Deborah Ellis succeeds resoundingly in her pioneering position, Moon at Nine reveals that LGBT themes so dexterously written into YA literature are sadly all too rare.”
—Matthew R. Loney

Dragon Lode International Books

“In this riveting love story based on true events, Deborah Ellis transports readers to Iran in 1988 just nine years after the Islamic Revolution. There readers meet fifteen-year-old Farrin, born into a wealthy aristocratic family. Farrin’s life is filled with great privilege except at her private high school for gifted girls where Pargol, a student monitor, often bullies her. Farrin gains a friend when Sadira arrives at the school. Eventually their relationship grows into something more than friendship, and the girls plan to run away together after Sadira’s parents arrange a marriage for her. Both girls are arrested, and readers can see how the perspective of the book’s characters change with shifts in power and position. In the afterward (sic.), the author explains how homosexuality is still illegal in more than 70 countries and punishable by death in six. Readers will find this powerful book both compelling and chilling.”
—Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

The Dragon Lode is a juried journal published by the International Reading Association Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group. Click here to learn more.

Youth Services Book Review

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

What did you like about the book? Farrin goes to a school for gifted girls, and when Sadira begins attending her school, the two fall in love. Amid all of the political upheaval in her country, Farrin is caught kissing Sadira and the two are punished. Farrin thinks she can’t survive without seeing Sadira, but can she survive if they stay together? Heart-stirring, believable, and ultimately heartbreaking, this is a must-read.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Middle and high school teens…

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes”
—Kasia Piasecka, Falmouth Public Library

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The Ottawa Review of Books

“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.

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.”

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Skipping Stones Magazine

“Ten years have passed since the Shah was overthrown in Iran, and Farrin, 15, struggles against the oppressive rule of politics, teachers, and her family’s anti-revolutionary secrets. But her budding clandestine romance with Sadira threatens her security most of all; homosexuality is punishable by death. This novel for teens at their formative age exposes the persecution gay lovers face worldwide today.”

Resource Links

“It is 1988 and Farrin is a fifteen-year-old girl struggling under the oppressive regime of the Iran government. Her family is a member of the wealthy aristocracy that supported the previous ruler and if anyone found out about this continuing support, Farrin’s family would be arrested and killed. Farrin therefore lives her daily life under the radar: she goes to a prestigious school for girls but gets only mediocre grades; she doesn’t make any friends or possible connections; she goes directly home after school and does no recreational activities. One fortuitous day at school, Farrin follows the forbidden sounds of music and finds a girl secretly playing an instrument. The girl is named Sadira, and being new at school, she does not hesitate to talk to Farrin and they become immediate friends. Farrin is entranced by Sadira’s brave and outgoing personality, qualities she has never encountered before, and quickly their friendship becomes one of romance. Knowing their love would be persecuted by the government, the girls try to keep their relationship a secret until their oppression becomes too much to bear and they attempt an escape. Both girls are captured and Farrin can only hope that someone will take pity on them and help them escape a fate which will otherwise result in death.

…an accessible text which can be enjoyed by a variety of readers due to its simple writing style. The author’s note describing the history of Iran is especially useful to those unfamiliar with this history and the subject matter of the novel is one that not only encourages individual research, but also fills a large gap in cultural LGBTQ literature.”

Canadian Children’s Book News

“Growing up in Tehran in the 1980s, Farrin’s entire life has always been filled with secrets. As secret supporters of the Shah who was overthrown by the Revolutionary Guard in 1979, Farrin’s parents’ illegal activities in support of the Shah could land them all in serious trouble. Her mother has always warned her not to draw attention to herself. Consequently, Farrin has never had close friends at school where she endeavours to keep a low profile. But everything changes when she meets a new girl named Sadira. Sadira’s friendship brings colour and brightness to her days, and soon Farrin knows that her feelings for Sadira are stronger than friendship. But this is Iran, and being gay is considered a crime. Farrin and Sadira cling to a desperate hope that the can somehow be together. But when the truth about their relationship is discovered, they are confronted with the harsh and terrible penalty that they must face for loving one another.

True to form, Deborah Ellis has crafted a stark, riveting and uncompromising account of life in a country and era that is markedly different from our own. Even the day-to-day details of Farrin’s life – the cruel, ever-suspicious school monitor always looking for an excuse to report her to the principal; her father’s driver stealing food from Farrin’s house to feed the other Afghan workers – create a strong sense of the political and religious climate of this time and place. Although the evolution of Farrin and Sadira’s relationship is not shown or explored in any real depth, their plight is nonetheless dramatically depicted. The strength of this novel is in its ability to highlight the social injustices that are still sadly present in our world today. Its heartbreaking and unflinching honestly will both engage readers and create heightened awareness.”

CM Magazine 

“Basing her book on a true story, Ellis has written a heartbreaking tale of prejudice and injustice. Ellis contrasts the sanctioned horrible treatment of human beings with an illegal love story…The characters are complex and carefully drawn…

While we recognize some progress in our country in terms of gay and lesbian rights, Moon at Nine is a sobering reminder that being gay or lesbian is still a criminal offence in many countries in the world, and for many, the penalty is death. Ellis has given us this reminder with yet another beautifully written story, the love story of Farrin and Sadira.

Highly Recommended.

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Small Press Book Review

“Although a deftly crafted work of fiction, “Moon At Nine” is based upon true events in Islamic countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. An extraordinary and original novel, “Moon At Nine” is recommended for young readers ages 13 and up and is appropriate for highschool and community library collections.”

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49th Shelf

“In this third person rendition, Deborah Ellis creates characters that aren’t all loveable Ann[e] of Green Gable types. Farrin is a defiant perhaps selfish teen with a razor sharp mind who hates her mom. Besides writing stories, she has no goals until she meets Sadira, a kind and smart girl who comes to the aid of all…A story that illuminates, astounds and perhaps will grow empathy for other cultures and sexualities.”

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Smithsonian Institute BookDragon

“In her ending “Author’s Note,” mega award-winning Canadian author Deborah Ellis…who has built a renowned international reputation for giving voice to children in the most challenging circumstances around the world—explains how her latest novel is true…Adding a succinct historical overview of Iran’s history, Ellis is careful to balance details of Ayatollah Khomeini’s destructive regime with the rich diversity—especially artistically —of the country’s past. But neither does she shy away from the shocking numbers of tragic victims as they relate to this novel…As more and more states strike down anti-gay marriage laws, Moon at Nine is a chilling reminder of the suffering of too many others…its importance is hard to deny.”

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

“…Deborah Ellis is Canada’s most modest and accomplished author of social justice stories for young people, and Moon at Nine can be added to that auspicious collection.  Based on a true story, the girls’ relationship in Moon at Nine is personal and precious but never explicit, unlike the merciless response of others to it.  Prohibited love may be ill-fated, but in the 1980′s Iran of secrets, surveillance and suppression,  it was perilous.  Still, in Moon at Nine, Deborah Ellis thoughtfully embeds a sliver of chaste love into that dispiriting world and, without contriving an unrealistic happy ending, offers a glimmer of possibility.”
—Helen Kubiw

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Amy’s Marathon of Books

Moon at Nine is quite frankly one of the most powerful love stories I have ever read, as Ellis shows her reader love is love, no matter what the sexual preference of those involved…With a backdrop of an almost post-war Iran, Farrin and Sadira are vibrant and inspiring characters consciously deciding to live in the moment by clinging to each other in the face of great opposition. Ellis’ writing is passionate and informative, creating a realistic and frightening picture of Iran’s reaction to homosexuality.

Moon at Nine is certainly worth putting on your to-read list.”

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Quick Brown Fox

“…Multi award-winning author Deborah Ellis excels in creating stories of determination in the face of adversity and social injustice. Here, she presents us with a sensitive and passionate tale based on the true life experiences of a young woman in Iran, where execution is the accepted form of punishment for gays or lesbians.

This is a story of love, courage, perseverance and ultimate betrayal by family, friends and country. Beautifully told, Ellis’s work represents the struggles and efforts of young people everywhere to gain acceptance in a world where inclusivity is not just a dream, but a reality.”

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More than Just Magic

Moon at Nine is the touching story of two people trying to find love in a dangerous place…Their story is beautiful and their love for one another intense…Moon at Nine is an important story. Diverse books like this are important because they educate us about other cultures and they’re an opportunity for people to share their stories when others want to silence them. Previous to reading I had no idea things were so bad in Iran for the LGBTQ community but now I know about organizations like Rainbow Railroad and want to do what I can to support them. I recommend Moon at Nine for those who enjoyed The Tyrant’s Daughter by J C Carleson and If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan.”

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Midwest Book Review

“Based on interviews with a young woman who had to flee Iran due to her sexual orientation, Moon at Nine is a unique story on many levels…Any reader who wants to understand Iranian history through the experiences of young people who themselves are changing will find Moon at Nine a riveting, different read that rests firmly on compelling characters facing an array of changes. Highly recommended for young adult readers in grade 9 and up.”

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