A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is just a brilliant story that is here to give you all the emotions. I didn’t expect less from the queen Tahereh Mafi, truly! She’s the author of the famous Shatter Me series and I also discovered her middle-grade magical books his year, Furthermore and Whichwhood. And least to say, she’s absolutely an autobuy author. This tale is a little different to her others though, as it lacks (firstly) magic! And the style is less flowery and whimsical and more solid as we experience the world through Shirin’s eyes.
It’s a tale drawn from personal experience and you can feel that bleed through every page. The author has lived and shared so much of the pain she shows us through Shirin and as we walk in her shoes, we experience the micro-aggressions to the outright huge racist and xenophobic actions from people around her. She hates school and how people snub or outright bully her and she aches to be loved but is certain it can’t last. It’s an important story.
It takes place a year after 9/11, and much of America’s views of Muslims has been condensed to viewing them through the lens of that terrorist attack. Shirin is sixteen and sick of being stereotyped and mistreated. She wears hijab and comes from a Persian background and is constantly moving around as her father gets job raises. Shirin is just tired…so so tired, of how casually cruel and dismissive of understanding people can be. She’s even been attacked outright on the streets so she’s built emotional walls around herself. Just get through the hellishness that is school. Listen to music. Ignore everything. Even though she has a tiny pleasant outlet through breakdancing with her brother, life quite honestly sucks…until she can’t brush off one boy: Ocean James. He sees her as a person and is determined to be kind. He wants to know her and this terrifies Shirin. Someone is going to get very very hurt, aren’t they?
The book was flawless and incredible, although I do admit I missed Mafi’s whimsical style I’d grown to love from her previous books. This was a straight-forward tone, with Shirin being very no-nonsense. But it’s also awesome to see authors conquer a wide variety of styles.
Shirin herself is prickly and snarky, and you ache as she aches. After everything she’s been through, even attacks on the street and all the bullying at school, she’s withdrawn and has rock solid walls up. She is a burnt marshmallow and I loved her immediately. Seeing what her life was like was so sobering. She’s abused for wearing hijab and treated like trash, and people have zero respect for her quiet and peaceful religion. She definitely showed signs of a lot of depression. She is just surviving. That’s it.
…and then she discovers both:
➸ breakdancing! she and her brother Navid start a club with 3 of his friends and this is wholesome badass dancing goodness
➸ Ocean James, a boy who is quiet and soft and awkward and has a desperate crush on her and makes mistakes but wants to learn to do better. Also he has really pretty eyes. Shirin tries not to notice or care about that…but she totally does.
Seeing Shirin having to work through her terror of being hurt (and eventually she worries about Ocean getting hurt) as their story unravels and spirals from a crush to deep feelings for each other, was heartwarming and also heartbreaking. These two kids just want to get to know each other better…but they have so much to overcome.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is so well written. It’s powerful and poignant and it has such an important message to give both Muslim teens going through what Shirin is, and non-Muslim teens so they can start to understand and learn. It balances fun and uplifting moments (with the breakdancing and epic sibling bond) with heartbreaking ones where you’re livid with rage of the injustices. Definitely a book that’s not to be missed.