Nioucha Homayoonfar’s memoir of life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution is equal parts joyful and heartbreaking. In 1976, at the age of 5, her family moves from Pittsburgh to Iran, where her father can be with his family again. For several years, Nioucha and her expat friends are educated in a progressive French-Persian school and enjoy the things most kids do, including listening to music, dancing, and swimming. But the revolution changes all that. Nioucha and her friends are segregated; they have to wear robes and hoods that cover their hair (and are threatened with burning in Hell, hanging on every visible thread of hair), and live in fear of being kidnapped by the Moral Police: a group called the Zeinab Sisters. Nioucha refers to them as The Black Crows, which brings a colorful, tongue in cheek image to mind, but these women are anything but humorous. The women patrol the streets in a van, capturing women and teens they deem immoral, hiding them in prisons, and beating them until they feel redemption is earned.
But there are wonderful moments of family and friendship in Taking Cover, too. Nioucha recalls her first Iranian Christmas, when she hopes Santa Claus will remember that she’s moved to Iran, so she’ll get her presents, and her family decorates her aunt’s house with a beautiful tree and presents. She talks about her relationship with her grandparents, who adore her and comfort her during her first sleepover away from her parents; going to concerts and driving around with her cousin, Sara, even learning French in an underground school run by her mother and her best friend’s mother. In the midst of explosions and oppression, Nioucha and her family managed to take joy where they found it.
Parallels to Persepolis are expected, and should be encouraged. Taking Cover is an excellent memoir and lead-in to Persepolis, allowing middle graders to expand their worldview and start a conversation on how the Iranian Revolution changed the world. The book includes a map of Iran and surrounding areas, and a timeline of Iranian history. There is a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide available.