February 15, 2014

Moon at Nine

by Deborah Ellis
Pajama Press
224 pp.
Ages 14+
For release April 2014

When the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979 and an Islamic republic ruled by the Ayatollah was established, it was initially seen by many as replacing an extravagant, secular, westernized regime with one based in Shia faith and clerical rule, albeit with an anti-Western sentiment.  But for a fifteen-year-old girl, Farrin, it means being extremely cautious about revealing her wealthy family's support of the Shah and her own enjoyment of American television and creative writing.  Though Farrin doesn't approve of her mother's parties with excessive food and prohibited drink, music, dancing and cigarettes, knowing that many Iranians were suffering, she worries for their safety should the Revolutionary Guard learn of their indiscretions.

Attending a school for gifted girls (transformed from one for wealthy families only), Farrin meets a new student, Sadira, who has been out of school caring for her father after the rest of her family was killed in a bombing.  Because Sadira's father, a cleric, had been imprisoned and tortured by the Shah's secret police, Farrin is apprehensive about sharing her family with Sadira, though she is drawn to Sadira's compassion and fearlessness, and her pro-woman views.
"...your girls need to go to school.  Men have run this world long enough, and they have made a mess of it." (pg. 65)
Recreating themselves as the "Demon-hunting Girls of Iran" (pg. 84) in keeping with Farrin's forbidden allegory about a girl fighting Iranian demons and beginning to feel the power of their friendship, the two girls make a pact that they would look at the moon at nine o'clock nightly so they could be together in spirit if not physically.

A visit to the Tomb of Hafez, the great Persian poet, and partaking in faal-e Hafez (fortune-telling based on randomly-selected text in the book of Hafez) intimates the course of Farrin and Sadira's relationship.
"No death invades a heart that comes alive in love:
Our immortality is etched in the book of life." (pg. 118)
While Farrin revels in the realization that she is in love with Sadira, their world begins to implode, with school spies informing on them, angry parents vowing to arrange marriages for each girl, and the Revolutionary Guard arresting them for deviancy.  Yet, through ensuing lies, interrogations, threats, assaults and imprisonment, Farrin and Sadira still have their Moon at Nine and the hope that they will be together again.

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 1980s 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.


  1. beautifully written, Helen.

    monica kulling

  2. Thank you for your beautiful review it made me cry.


  3. Respect Farrin. Will definitely be reading. Regards your downstairs neighbour and occasional elevator companion.