“I looked out at the world around me and no longer saw nuance. I saw nothing but the potential for pain and the subsequent need to protect myself, constantly” – Tahereh Mafi
A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows a Muslim teenage girl named Shirin living in 2002 as she faces racism and discrimination following the events of 9/11. While Shirin is trying to balance high-school and learning to break dance with her brother, she meets this guy named Ocean, who is one of the first guys not to throw degrading comments her way. I’ve heard some great things about this book and was excited to read about a new perspective.
This book has so many positives that added up to a wonderful story. First off, our main character Shirin was hilarious, and I loved following her journey. Even though her interactions with racists made my blood BOIL, I think her journey towards self-love is truly an inspiring one. I also thought that her development as a character was stellar. The world around her has made her incredibly angry, rightly so, and seeing her have to confront herself and her negative emotions was so interesting to watch. Also, I just have to say it was really cool to see a Muslim girl who wears a Hijab break dancing.
Next up, we have Ocean. I have to admit, I was very wary of Ocean at the beginning of the novel, but he definitely won me over at about the halfway mark. He was so wonderful and sweet and his relationship with Shirin was a light amidst all the darkness. And there were definitely moments where I squealed with joy and could feel my heart beating faster. Ocean = *heart eyes*… seriously.
And I should be clear, some parts of this book were rough to read about. The racist remarks and degrading comments that Shirin must experience were truly horrible at some points. Although I knew this is a reality that many Muslims in America face even today, seeing it happen on the pages of a YA book felt like a punch to the gut. Although I cannot speak to the Muslim representation in this book, I know this is an own voices novel that is inspired a lot by Tahereh’s own life. However, I have seen own voices reviewers that mention that the Muslim rep is not very accurate.
The only reason that this book was not a 5 star read was the beginning for me. It might have just been me getting used to Shirin’s voice, but something just felt off to me, especially in her early interactions with Ocean. I guess I just was not the biggest fan of her and her humor at that point in the book? This shifted once I got about a third of the way through though! So, this was probably just a me thing.
Overall, this book was inspiring, profound, and oh so special. I am so happy that I finally was able to experience this story. This story is still with me even weeks after I read it and I think it will stay with me for a long time.
Buy the book on AMAZON or BARNES AND NOBLE