I’ve been a fan of Tahereh Mafi since I read the first three books of the Shatter Me series several years back. I’ve reread the trilogy multiple times after that. When I heard that she was writing a contemporary novel, I was surprised because it wasn’t her genre. But I did anticipate this book.
Tahereh Mafi wrote A Very Large Expanse Of Sea taking inspiration from her own life experiences. She said that she always knew she would write this book because she has so much to say. It’s an #OwnVoices book.
The book has been receiving praise ever since the Advance Reader’s Copies started rolling out. It seemed like everywhere I looked online after the release, people were talking about it. It was no surprise when the book was listed as one of the best Young Adult books of 2018. The book has also been nominated for the national book award. Levantine Films have recently acquired the right to make a movie on it and it has been only 5 months since the book released. If you read Young Adult books and haven’t read this, what are you even doing?
Okay, I’ve hyped the book up enough. Let’s get to what it’s actually about.
A Very Large Expanse Of Sea book is written in the point of view of Shirin, a Muslim girl, navigating high school life a year after the 9/11 tragedy. Used to stares, negative comments and whispers, Shirin has built up walls around her. She prefers her own company and always assumes the worst from others. That way she’s never disappointed if people turn out bad. She listens to music under her hijab to get through the day at school and spends her free time breakdancing with her brother and his friends.
When a classmate tries to get to know her and is nice to her, Shirin is surprised and suspicious. Ocean James comes from a seemingly different world and it terrifies her. At that point, she was so used to keeping distance from everyone that someone being friendly felt foreign.
The book follows Shirin as she goes through new experiences, faces challenges and grows as a person.
I’ve read books which are written from the points-of-view of Muslims but this was the first time that I really delved into the book and character. I saw myself in the way Shirin thought and acted, hence I could relate and see myself as her throughout the book, and also understand better.
To me, the book was eye-opening. For the first time, I saw what the Muslims faced after 9/11 in America. I saw Shirin being bad-mouthed, thrown something at and isolated by her peers at school just because she wore a headscarf. People around her blamed her for the attack even though she was at school that day and has no relation with the terrorists. I’ve seen a similar mindset in quite a few people in India as well so it hit home.
Because I understood new things from it, the book made me think. I thought about the story for days after I finished the book. It literally gave me a book hangover. I read the book really fast and I wanted to reread it the minute I finished it.
Not only did I love the story because of what it showed me, I also loved the characters. Especially Shirin and the character growth she had. Shirin was a no-nonsense girl who did not care about what other people thought. She saw school as just a place to get through and not a place to experience and have fun in. But as the book went on and she got a friend and experienced new things, she recognized her mistakes. Shirin worked on herself. I appreciated that a lot.
Shirin was the highlight but I liked the supporting characters as well. Ocean James, who was Shirin’s classmate and the boy who wanted to get to know her, was an interesting character to see. I’ve read variations of his type in other books but he with a character like Shirin was new. I liked how teenage crushes and romance was shown with Shirin and Ocean. I shipped them together so hard.
I also really liked Shirin’s brother Navid and her relationship with him. Their bond was amazing and heart-lifting. Shirin and Navid bonded over their love for breakdancing and it was very endearing. They support each other and love each other to bits, even if they have differences. They are literally sibling goals. In fact, Shirin’s whole family was endearing to read about. The usual gaps between parents and teenagers were subtly shown but they were a close family.
Speaking of Shirin’s family, they’re actually Persian! The Persian culture was shown in the book in titbits and I was all for it. Persian food and the language were present in Shirin’s daily life and hence were included naturally in the book. I love learning about new cultures so that was great.
In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book enough. I’ve been recommending it to people around me without any holds barred ever since I finished it. If you’re looking for a good contemporary book, pick it up. If you’re looking for a book that will make you think, read this. If you want a book that will grip you until the end, READ THIS. A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is my new favourite contemporary book and it deserves all the hype that it receives.
Happy Reading !