A Very Large Expanse of The Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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.

Shirin is a 16-year-old Muslim girl living through the aftermath of post 9/11 America. All Shirin wants is to be left alone, because every person in the world sucks and she believes everyone is the same. Until a boy shows her there is more to the world once you open your walls.

We explore that sometimes by blocking out people we just hurt ourself and are no better than the people who hurt us.

The novel deals with racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia. It doesn’t tell us this stuff this is gross and bad. We experience it first hand through Shirin’s experiences. We experience how she feels when someone comes after here through blind hate and we experience the essence of what it means to be stereotyped and the pain it brings — even when we pretend it doesn’t hurt.

Ocean James, our leading boy in this romantic ya contemporary is the definition of a soft boy not drown in toxic masculinity. Ocean becomes intrigued by Shirin not because she is “exotic” or “different” but because he believes she is the first person who doesn’t see him as the rest of his friends, town, and community seems him.

After all ultimately what we want is for people to care for us, and love us past the surface. At least that’s what these beautiful characters convey.

Ms. Mafi explores the concept and the truth of immigrant parents believing their kids have it easy because they had it worse in their home country. The reality that they don’t see our struggles, because it isn’t theirs is really powerful. I personally resonated with that every time Shirin brought it up.

This is not some little romance book, while the love story is an important aspect of it because Shirin learns that she acts the same as what she believe people are — mean scary monsters — and grows out of it. Nothing is more important in a story that a character realizing they are wrong and go on and actually change for the better. This is a story about self-worth and admitting that self-change in important for our personal growth.

My Rating: 5/5

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