I received this book for free from HarperTeen in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Published by HarperTeen on October 16, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, YA
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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.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is my first Tahereh Mafi book and I definitely hope it won’t be last. Reviewing this one is particularly hard because it was one of those books I ADORED while reading but a couple hours of reflection definitely allowed me to pick up on several holes within the plot and various arcs of the story.
The book hits on a particularly complex social issue that’s about as relevant today as it was two decades ago – islamophobia. This book is an #ownvoices tale and particularly so in that it is very much inspired by Mafi’s own experiences growing up after 9/11. One of my favorite things about this book is that sometimes, even when the sentences aren’t perfect or I have issues with how things play into the larger plot of the novel, Mafi is so absolutely wonderful at emotions. The under thread of anger that flows in this book is extremely poignant and hard-hitting. I wanted to CRY because I was so angry on behalf of Shirin. Shirin is also, her anger is just beautiful. That’s a weird thing to say and upon reflection it does seem kind of generic but IT’S SO TRUE. I loved her anger and I loved how it evolved over the course of the book. I also loved that the book truly allowed Shirin to be angry at the injustice she experiences because people don’t know how to react to a visibly Muslim woman. It didn’t seem to ever make it out to be a bad thing or preach that love is the answer to EVERYTHING. It isn’t but hey, love ~is~ nice.
One of my other favorite things about this book is that Shirin is surprisingly honest with her love interest. Sometimes, in YA novels, especially old school ones, there is a tendency for MCs to just lie to their love interests to ‘protect’ them and hurt their feelings. But Shirin? Even when she is unsure, angsty and confused, she trusts Ocean with her feelings because she is aware this impacts him and she doesn’t want to be needlessly cruel. Of course, there are times when Shirin doesn’t offer the full truth (in part because of her own trauma) but I love that she doesn’t at least shield Ocean.
My biggest issue with the book is just that sometimes, it felt like a lot of character arcs and plot lines took a backseat to the romance. The romance was great but there were characters I wanted to get to know better! I wanted more of the breakdancing! I wanted more of the book basically. More of Shirin and her life outside of the horrifying bullying and swoony romance. WE NEVER EVEN really found out why the fuck her family moves all the time! There was ONE line dedicated to that entire thing and it didn’t explain anything. Even though the moving around has supposedly shaped her into the person she is.
The good news is that the romance is well written and good enough to hold up the entire novel but also, I just wanted more. Tahereh is clearly a wonderful writer and I wished we got to see even more of Shirin’s relationships with the people around her (BESIDES OCEAN.)
Overall, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is certainly a novel worthy of your time and attention. Especially if you love adorable romances. And I pretty much guarantee you’ll finish the book with a smile on your face. SO? Yes. Read the thing.
3.5 Hot Espressos
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Madalyn @ Novel Ink
We had very similar feelings about this one! You totally nailed it– the emotions really shine through in Mafi’s writing, but UGH the romance just eclipsed everything else in Shirin’s life and there are so many other parts of her life I’d love to see explored in more depth. Wonderful review! <3
Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
I’ve not yet read any Tahereh Mafi though I’ve seen several posts raving about her great writing. I’mm not sure whether the overpowering romance storyline would make this a good book with which to start?