Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Wow, this book shocked me in its greatness. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel because I’ve not always been a huge fan of this author’s over-the-top/flowery writing style. Thank goodness, the writing style of this was so much simpler and more direct than in the other books. This read like the actual words/feelings of a teen and not someone trying to be one.
This book took me back to high school. I saw myself in Shirin in a way I’m not used to reading in YA any more. And I’m so different from her. But, as a teen, I feel like I was just as angry as her, and equally good at keeping people away. High school was where my eyes were opened to a lot of injustices. I moved to a city from the suburbs and I had a lot to learn. I was also just shy of Shirin’s age when 9/11 happened (my first week of high school). It was a little nostalgic for me.
This book was also painful. So much of the hatred and prejudice she endured would have broken me. It would have torn me to pieces. I was expecting a lot of it. But, still, not all of it. And I guess this speaks to the fact that I’m still more privileged than I know or care to think about. Some of my closest friends in high school (at that same time period) were Muslim and they taught me a lot of things, but I know there’s still so much I’ll never know. The moment in this book that really had my jaw dropping was when Shirin was cornered in an office by the basketball coach. I literally put the book down in terror. I was terrified for her. The idea that an adult male, a leader at the school, someone the whole town respected, would talk to any student the way he did to her, had my blood boiling.
In the moments when Shirin really backed up a peg and questioned her choices and bravery, I was the most livid and angry. I wanted to go beat up that guy that her brother and dance team went after. I wanted to file a lawsuit against the basketball coach and school. I wanted to get the girl who took the photograph expelled. But, this is when Shirin worked hard to learn that not everyone is awful and that keeping the world at bay prevents the good people from getting in. This is an important lesson.  But, I also wanted more consequences for the bad behaviors of others. Why was the coach, the school, the bullies never held accountable? They all just got away with it. And this made me so angry. Though, I guess that’s believable?
I loved the romance. I loved that Ocean had a lot of learning to do too. Shirin had to learn to let people in, and Ocean had to learn that the world was not as great as he thought it was. His eyes were opened to a lot of the bad, as hers were opened to a lot of the good. I shipped them. I honestly did. I also liked that the romance brought a comfortable fun element to the story, so it wasn’t all about prejudice. I love how universal first love can be. And Mafi is so good at writing this.
I think one of the reasons this book was so readable was because of lot of the worst actions/racist moments happened in the past or was summed up in a neat package, making it a little less harsh. It was still there. And I guess in any other circumstance this telling (instead of showing) might have bothered me. But here, it made the book easier to get through. I read it in under a day.
All in all, this book wowed me. It packed an impactful punch. It opened my eyes a little bit more and had me thinking a lot about my high school days. I loved Shirin and watching her come out of her shell. I loved her family and I loved Ocean too. This was a timely, powerful story. And I hope a lot of people read this. I give it a 10/10.

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