by Christopher Lewis
“Living in a country torn apart by a revolution gives you a different perspective on the lessons you learn in history class,” says Lizzie, the main protagonist in Karen Alkofer’s first novel, The Party Line. It’s a young adult novel with an insightful twist. In addition to providing an interesting story, this book also gives the reader a different perspective than the lessons you learn in history class. I would argue that it is also worth reading for an adult because of the inside perspective it gives you on what it might have been like to come of age in that volatile time and place.
In some ways, Lizzie’s life seems at first like that of the average American teenager. Her family has moved to Tehran in Iran because of work, and she is enrolled in an international high school where most of her fellow students are Americans like herself. We see her dealing with the everyday high school dramas of dating, making friends and going to school. However, at the same time her life is due to take some unexpected turns because she happens to be living in the midst of a revolution.
Her family shares a party line with their downstairs neighbors and being a teenager who loves to talk on the phone, Lizzie at first resents that they have to share the line with other people. However, she soon becomes fascinated with what her neighbors are up to and starts listening in on their calls. It turns out that the neighbors are spies, and before she knows it she allows her curiosity to put her into a dangerous position where she ends up embroiled in espionage herself.
In many ways, the story just sets a normal teenage girl in the midst of an unusual situation. One thing I like about the book is it’s realism. Though it deals with themes like racism, death, espionage and violence alongside more everyday high school themes, it does so within the context of real history and in a realistic way. Alkofer, the author, really did live in Tehran before the revolution and much like in the story, her mother worked at the embassy and her father was a spy.
In my opinion, this story deserves five stars as a young adult novel but also should get three or four stars in its own right as a book that presents a very realistic snapshot of a moment in history that is all but forgotten by many English speakers.
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