From Tahereh Mafi, beloved writer of novels for children and young adults, comes a novel about Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who is growing up in a post-9/11 world. This #ownvoices novel was an intense read, my first of Mafi’s books to read to completion, and a good introduction into the mind, the writing style, and world of this skilled wordsmith.
Published: 16 October 2018
Genre(s): Young Adult/Contemporary/Fiction
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
Victim blaming, xenophobia, violence, bullying, Islamophobia, racism, microaggressions
Rep: Muslim, hijabi, dyslexia
There were admittedly a lot of difficult parts to ready. Shirin recalls many times when she is harassed by people because of the color of her skin, because she wears a hijab. She recounts the time she was physically attacked and throttled by cowardly bigots. The racism, the microaggressions, and so forth (refer back the to content warnings)…taking these into consideration, A Very Large Expanse of Sea was an experience as well as a story.
Among the good was the he sibling relationship between Shirin and Navid. Not only did they form a breakdancing group together, but there were flashbacks to show that their bond wasn’t just for the current time of the book. Navid’s dyslexia was something that was an experience for both of them and Shirin helped him with reading, an aspect of their bonding that was nice to read about.
Breakdancing as a whole was something I’d never read about, so from reading about Shirin and Navid’s early interest to their group practices to the school talent show, it was a fun aspect of the book. Music, the various dance moves that everyone learned throughout…some I had a hard time picturing, but overall I was engaged as heck.
Shirin and Ocean’s courtship was at times sweet and awkward. It was not without its uncomfortable moments because of Ocean’s instances of white guilt seen in his repeated apologies and insistence upon those apologies. Their interactions felt refreshingly authentic, though alternatively there were a couple that were written fairly stiffly. Ocean as a character felt alright, but as a love interest was too much for me to really like him 100%. It didn’t seem like he respected Shirin’s concerns about their relationship, as it existed or potentially, and just kept pushing and remaining dense.
The ending was something that I didn’t exactly have a problem with because that feels like a strong word, but I didn’t care for it. It felt extremely abrupt and almost convenient? When I got to it, it felt like a big meh and shrug, not really a satisfactory resolution.
I’d like to read more Tahereh Mafi books in the future. Whether fantasy, contemporary, or other, I’m curious to see what other kind of beginnings, middles, and endings she has in store.
Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of books for children and young adults. She currently resides in Southern California with her husband, fellow author Ransom Riggs, and their daughter. Her latest novel, DEFY ME, hit shelves April 2nd, 2019.
Her work is represented by Jodi Reamer of Writers House, LLC.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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