Title: A Very Large Expanse of Sea
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Publication: October 6, 2018 by HarperTeen
My Rating: ★★★★☆
Synopsis: 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. (Source: Goodreads)
This is such a critical story that I hope not only makes an impact on YA literature, but also on society in general. It’s the type of book that I would recommend a thousand times over. It’s one that I desperately want everyone to read, to learn from, and I’m so thankful Tahereh Mafi shared it with us.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea has all the aspects of your average YA contemporary, but what makes it so unique, and important, is this: the insight on what is means to be a Muslim American living in a post 9/11 world. We follow a teenager as she navigates the typical aspects of high school, from the friend and family dynamics, to schoolwork, to romance, while also experiencing brutal racism in her day to day life. This story is told in such a honest and raw way. There’s funny moments, and sweet moments, but also heartwrenching ones as it brings attention to the harsh reality of xenophobia in our society.
One of my favorite aspects of this story is that Shirin, our main character and narrator, is very much a reflection of Tahereh Mafi herself (who is quite honestly one of my favorite people on this planet). It was incredible to read a character that you know is so personal to her. Shirin’s interests, her love of breakdancing and for writing and fashion, all came from Mafi. She put so much of her own self in to this novel and you can truly feel just how much of her heart was in it. It made the entire book it that much more authentic and honest.
However, Shirin’s character arc itself was what made this story so powerful. Over the course of the book, she gradually transformed as she learned more about herself and those around her. It was astonishing to watch how her reaction to the hatred shifted and she began to began to feel more at peace. Shirin’s character development was extremely well done and definetly what I loved the most about this book.
There was also the romance, which was sweet, but I do have to say I felt a bit conflicted about how it all played out. The thing is, I adored the male lead (and even his odd name), Ocean. I liked that he was shy, kind, and didn’t have flat personality. The dynamic between he and Shirin was well done. However, as the book went on, it seemed like the romance sort of took over. It felt like it started becoming more about their relationship than anything else, which didn’t sit well with me. Other than that though, I do think the romance was generally a positive addition to the overall story.
Every single one of us can learn from this book and feel it’s impact in one way or another, but more than anything, I am so grateful that Muslim teenagers specifically will have this story in their lives. Even with strides being made for diversity in YA literature, it’s still not common enough for their voices and stories to be represented like this. I hope that this book inspires a change. I hope that it only continues to pave the pathway for more proper representation in the future.
Please support this book and give it all the love it deserves. This one, in all honesty, has the power to make an enormous impact.
ARC provided by HarperTeen via Edelweiss Plus. All opinions are my own.
I’d love to know:
Do you have plans to read this book? Are you looking forward to it? Have you read any of Tahereh Mafi’s other works?