A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Young Adult | Contemporary
Goodreads | Amazon
Published by HarperTeen
Released October 16, 2018
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Tahereh Mafi’s first contemporary novel, and it’s a good one. Mafi is known mostly for Shatter Me, which is a young adult fantasy series. In this novel, released at the end of 2018, she examines what it’s like to be a Muslim teenager in post-9/11 America.
Tahereh Mafi has said in many interviews that this is her most autobiographical novel to date, and she is also a Muslim-American who wears the hijab and was a teenager after the events of 9/11. I’m always intrigued by #ownvoices novels, so I was excited when I was finally able to pick this up at the library after being on hold for it for well over two months.
Overall, it was very enjoyable and enlightening, and a book that I feel is important that young adults read. It deals with racism and bigotry in the best way possible, by showing us the pain and hardships people experience when they’re victims of bullying and being singled out based on their skin color or nationality. Shirin, our main character, has dealt with all sorts of really terrible situations that no one should have to live with, and it’s caused her to essentially shut herself off to the people around her.
As a character, Shirin was immensely likable and, because of that, the situations that she finds herself in with other students, teachers, and even police are incredibly frustrating. My mind is constantly bogged down by how cruel people can be to others based on something such as what they look like or what they choose to wear. I found myself feeling so bad for Shirin for the way she’s been treated, and it doesn’t help that her parents are essentially non-existent in her life. Despite everything, though, Shirin is a great character for the simple reason that she’s both strong and incredibly fragile:
“I always say that I don’t care what other people think. I say it doesn’t bother me, that I don’t give a shit about the opinions of assholes but it’s not true. It’s not true, because it hurts every time, and that means I still care. It means I’m still not strong enough because every time some mentally ill homeless person goes on a terrifying rampage when they see me crossing the street – it hurts. It never stops hurting. It only gets easier to recover.”
I wasn’t surprised at all when I found out that Mafi based some of the aspects of the novel off of events that happened in her own life because from the start it felt like a very honest book. It seemed too real not to have some personal experience behind her words.
This was the first book by Tehereh Mafi that I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I loved her writing style, and I hope her other books are as straight-forward and heartfelt as this one was.
The main reason I’m only giving this book three and a half stars is due to the romance between Shirin and Ocean. I understand that part of the intention of this book was to look at inter-racial relationships, and those parts of the book I did really enjoy and found to be very insightful. However, I don’t feel that the beginning of their relationship was very realistic. Shirin basically does everything she can to push Ocean away, and I have trouble believing that Ocean wouldn’t just give up. Heck, if I found myself in a situation like that, I would probably back off. She constantly sends him mixed signals, goes days without speaking to him (despite being his lab partner), and he’s clearly baffled by her behavior.
With the exception of that the issues I had with the relationship, I really enjoyed this novel, and will definitely be re-reading it again.