Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji (NAL Trade, 2009) isn't marketed as a young adult novel, but many teen readers will find it appealing.
It is the early 1970s and the people of Iran are bewildered and pained by political injustice. In Tehran, seventeen-year-old Pasha is in love with the girl next door. Zari is beautiful, intelligent, older - and engaged to Pasha's mentor and friend, Ramin. Ramin, who is better known as Doctor, is a university student activist who hates the Shah and his government. Pasha's best friend Ahmed is in love too, with Faheemeh, a girl being forced to marry a man she does not love.
The chapters in Rooftops of Tehran alternate between the summer Pasha falls in love with Zari and his time in a psychiatric hospital almost a year later. The novel has a leisurely pace and the reasons behind Pasha's confinement are slowly revealed. Readers are taken through the development of Pasha, Doctor, Zari, Ahmed, and Faheemeh's relationships as friends, neighbors, and lovers, as well as through their shocking and heartbreaking encounters with the SAVAK, the Shah's secret police.
Debut author Mahbod Seraji takes extra special care to introduce and explain Persian culture, politics, and history. Readers will be fascinated by the differences between their culture and Persian culture and will marvel at the similarities. Though descriptions of time and place are overwrought, the neighborhood setting of the novel is still beautifully established through the relationships and activities of people. There is a strong and warm sense of community throughout the entire novel from all of the characters' respect for elders, family ties, friendships, concern for one another, and hospitality.
This window to Iran, establishment of setting, and sense of community make Rooftops of Tehran interesting and enjoyable. But what makes it truly worth reading is the coming of age of Pasha and Ahmed. They experience their first major personal crises and their first brutal encounters with life. The portrayal of their gradual transformation from boys to men is effective and moving.
Rooftops of Tehran makes Iran feel like your home and Pasha, Doctor, Zari, Ahmed, and Faheemeh feel like your close neighbors. Putting away this novel once the story is over will feel like having to leave home. You will not want to leave.
[My copy of Rooftops of Tehran was provided by the publisher.]