Hello there, speedsters! Welcome back to my blog!
I am so ecstatic for today’s post, as I will finally be sharing my thoughts on Tahereh Mafi’s YA contemporary debut, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, which I read for The Reading Rush two weeks and fell head over heels with. Spoiler alert: I loved it very much.
Before I delve into my review, here’s the cover and 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.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is easily one of the best contemporaries I’ve ever read. It’s not a perfect book, by any means. But it quite literally tore me apart in the best way possible.
I don’t often cry while reading, which is ironic because I’m literally the most sensitive and emotional person of ever. Even less, I sob. But I did both while reading this novel. I was full of so much heartache, the nerves on my body were on fire, and it struck me as hard as a slap to the face. How raw this book is. How important it is.
The characters jumped from the page. I wanted and needed to give Shirin all the hugs. I still do. It broke my heart a million times how she was scared of pursuing happiness because of the cruel world she lived in. Her world, just as fucked and messed up as ours. Walking on a sidewalk was a literal task because of the hatred she faced. It was so unfair, and yet, way too real.
The double standards Shirin faced as a Hijabi Muslim, compared to her brother Navid, whose name and skin tone and his entire self were deemed ~exotic and cool~, meanwhile Shirin got threat notes shoved into her locker. She got the stares and the racist questions and the microaggressions. She was deemed uncool just for existing. It reflected a lot about the misogyny and sexism among communities of color, not just Muslims.
Still, I adored Shirin and Navid’s relationship. I liked how they vouched for each other. They had each other’s backs. They fought and bickered and argued. But they loved each other so immensely. Navid cared so much about his sister, even if sometimes he struggled a bit to show it. Theirs is probably one of the healthiest and nicest sibling dynamics I’ve read about and is now a new favorite.
I don’t even think I have the words to describe my love for the romance. It was so beautiful. Two insecure polar opposites exploring their feelings. Ocean is my new favorite white boi I must protecc, and I have such a crush on him. I also have a crush on Shirin. *shakes in bisexual*
It was such an amazing romance that quickly became a tear-jerker and I just have a lot of emotions, okay? I was afraid Ocean would pull a coward move after the bullying towards him began, because I’ve learned to keep my expectations low with whities. But then he just didn’t and I-I’m so emo. Emo because of him doing the bare minimum but god, he was so strong and fierce. He loved so hard and strongly. He’s the kind of person we all need in our lives.
I’m still a mess over this book and I’m 99.9% sure I will never recover. But this book had incredibly complex main characters you have no other choice to root for, delicious Persian food to salivate over, themes surrounding Islamophobia, religion, race, sexism, and love, amazing writing, an engaging plot, great family dynamics, breakdancing, and an ending that will leave you longing, but leave behind a deep sense of satisfaction.
The world isn’t perfect. Life isn’t perfect. But books like this one, so impactful and challenging, help make a change. Voices like Tahereh’s are valid and important and needed and help so many folks see themselves. Know they are not alone.
Books like this one help make the world a better place, and I am grateful.
Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐
And that concludes this blog post!
Have you read A Very Large Expanse of Sea? If so, what did you think? Did you love it as much as I did?
This is an absolute must-read, and if you haven’t read it yet, I’m begging you, please do!
I hope you all enjoyed, and I’ll see you on the next one.