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Article Content Warning: spoilers
Melissa Bashardoust’s young adult novel Girl, Serpent, Thorn resists the fairy tale narrative tradition of simplifying beings into good and evil and explores the journey of discovering queer love and connections. Like other fairytale princesses, Princess Soraya begins her life hidden away, dreaming of finding love and connection. Except Soraya isn’t hidden away by an evil queen, she is hidden away because she is the monster—she has poison running through her veins that makes her deadly to the touch. As she takes action to cure herself, Soraya learns that not all curses need to be cured, and the poison that she thought made her a monster is truly her greatest strength.
Soraya is driven by the deep desire to be normal and to fit into her family and society, but she learns that sacrificing her true self is the real transformation that would turn her into a monster. Above ground in the light, where Soraya dreams to be, she connects with a soldier named Azad who gives her glimpses of what her life could be like if she rid herself of the poison. Underground in the darkness, a fairy div (demon) named Parvaneh is being held prisoner and she holds the answers that Soraya needs to be free of her curse. As the book progresses, Soraya learns that Azad is the real monster as he transforms into the Shahmar, the greatest demon of them all. However, Parvaneh, the evil div, sees and loves the real Soraya. Bashardoust presents aspects that are narratively evil, like being labeled as a div, and allows them to be narratively good.
The greatest gift that this novel presents to its audience, especially young adult readers, is a strong protagonist that chooses love not by sex or gender identity, but by how the other person makes them feel. The book does not focus or explicitly comment on the fact that Soraya falls in love and ends up in a relationship with a female, yet it still tells a story about feeling afraid of being yourself and the importance of coming out of hiding—an experience that many queer people may relate to.
I’m not only a lover of young adult fiction, but I’m also a gender-nonbinary lesbian who is multi-cultural: my father is from Iran and my mother is European and Native American. This book feels like it was written directly for me, and I feel so thankful to Bashardoust for representing two of my cultures. Not only does the book present queer positivity through and through, but Bashardoust beautifully blends Persian myths with European folktales. The Shahmar, Azad’s true monstrous form, is based on the old Persian story of the Shahnameh, and Parvaneh, Soraya’s lover, is a Parik—a mythical creature that is based on beautiful Persian fairies called Pari. Throughout the novel, Bashardoust doesn’t shy away from using Persian words, names, and even holidays, giving the reader insight into traditional Persian myths and stories.
Soraya’s struggle to fit into either the human world or the div world feels similar to being multi-cultural in America—do I need to choose one of my cultural identities over the others? By blending stories and cultures, Bashardousts’s readers get to experience both worlds, which uniquely integrates and acknowledges Persian culture in a way that few European narratives do.
I highly recommend this book because it not only pulls the reader into an amazing fun adventure, but it also illuminates queer love and Persian culture. What better way to spend Pride than with a queer rebel princess who fights to be seen!
Melissa Bashardoust received her degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, where she rediscovered her love for creative writing, children’s literature, and fairy tales and their retellings. She currently lives in Southern California with a cat named Alice and more copies of Jane Eyre than she probably needs. Melissa is the author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass and Girl, Serpent, Thorn.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn can be purchased here.