Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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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.

I can’t even explain to you how much I adored this book, but I’m going to damn well try. Shirin is a teenage girl in America just after 9/11, and she is Muslim. I cannot even tell you how much I adored this concept. So often, YA is too focused on a romance, friendship, family, dystopia or fantasy world. Never, is religion the focus. And I absolutely loved that this book centered more than anything else around Muslim culture.

I may not have experienced this kind of discrimination first hand, but I have friends who have suffered because of their religion. I’ve listened to their stories, and every time, they break my heart into tiny little pieces.

“I didn’t believe it was possible to hide a woman’s beauty. I thought women were gorgeous no matter what they wore, and I didn’t think they owed anyone an explanation for their sartorial choices.”

I love how raw this book is. The events were so emotional and sad, but hit home so much for me. I cannot even begin to express how important this book is. This is so different to anything I’ve read in YA, and frankly, it’s about time that a Muslim teen gets to tell her story. In fact, we are way past that time. This should be normal, this should happen every day. But unfortunately, we still live in a world that experiences events just as Shirin does in this book. But stories like these, words like these? They’re the most amazing kind of start.

I loved Shirin in every way. She was such a well-rounded and well-developed character, and I loved the conversations she has with her brother, her teachers, her friends, her family. Everyone is included in this book and it was done so well. Ocean was a beautiful contrast to Shirin as a love interest, and it was brilliant how he broke down her barriers and had such a deep love for her.

“Different women felt comfortable in different outfits.”

Honestly, this might be one of my favourite books of this year. It has absolutely blown me away. Along with all of these compliments, it took me under 2 days to read this beauty. I have only one criticism for this book, which is that I wish Shirin’s parents would have found out about Ocean. I loved the relationship Shirin had with her family, and it would have been such an interesting scene to read about.

This book broke my heart a thousand times over, and glued it back together with strings of hope as strong and as bright as the stars.

★★★★★
5 stars

-Beth

May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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5 thoughts on “Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

  1. I definitely need to check this out! I’ve seen a couple bloggers post about books with Jewish protagonists that focus on religion in the plot as well. I hope the discussion of religion is a trend that catches and becomes normal in YA!

    Liked by 1 person

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