It’s 2002, a year after 9/11, and Shirin as just started at yet another school. It’s an extremely turbulent time for the world, but also 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. But 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. She decided long ago not to trust anyone anymore, and she doesn’t expect, or even try, to fit in anywhere or let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she downs her frustrations in music and spends afternoons breakdancing 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.
Tahereh Mafi, bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, returns with a gorgeous and heartrending new novel inspired by her own experiences with first love, break dancing, and the devastating impact of prejudice.
This story blew me away. In A Very Large Expanse of Sea we follow our main character, Shirin, as she once again starts at another new high school after moving, again. Shirin is an Iranian American girl that is relentlessly judged. Starting at a new school doesn’t help that. She has figured out how to ignore the world and the hateful people in it, and get through the days, each day a little closer to graduation.
“You don’t know shit about me, okay? You don’t know shit about how I’ve lived or what I’ve been through or why I choose to wear a hijab and it’s not your place to judge me or how I live my life. I get to be a fucking human being, okay? And you can go straight to hell.”
I think what I loved most about this book was how much I could relate to Shirin. Now, as a a straight white female I don’t claim to know anything about what it’s like to be treated like she was, but despite the horrible things people say and do, she’s still just a high school girl. She’s sad and lonely just trying to get through each day with the help of her diary and her iPod. She’s also unapologetic about who she is. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself against those who try to hurt her. I remember what it was like to be the girl that hid in her books or writing to avoid those she went to school with. She finds release in her enjoyment of breakdancing. I certainly didn’t think I would be reading a story about breakdancing when I picked this up.
“Here, I could be more than the settings applied to my life by society.”
I enjoyed this book because even though it was addressing a serious topic that needs to be recognized, I also couldn’t help but laugh at certain things and enjoy the interactions with the characters. A relationship I really enjoyed was between Shirin and her brother, Navid. They were very realistic siblings and I loved seeing Navid give her a hard time and then defend her in the same breath. I also have an older brother, one that would have beat up anyone that did anything like this to me. I really enjoyed their relationship, sibling relationships in stories are one of my favorite things.
“It makes me feel, I don’t know. Like I’m in control. I get to choose who gets to see me. How they see me.”
Now for Ocean, I enjoyed him over all but I wasn’t head over heels. I liked that he was determined to not care what anyone else thought about his choices. He was sweet and caring. He just wanted to be a part of Shirin’s life, but didn’t really know what that meant until they were actually together. I did not like that he didn’t think about how the choice to be with Shirin may affect her. Because he’s a popular kid, the star of the basketball team, he’s obviously well loved and people love to get involved in situations that aren’t any of their business, especially when they feel that you’re making a mistake. So the two of them dating had more negative effects for Shirin and Ocean didn’t seem to think about how she might be treated because of it.
“Ocean made me want to give the world a second chance.”
This book was insightful and touching. It was really a reality check to someone like me that has never experienced anything like this. One thing that really resonated with me was when Shirin said something about checking out at the grocery store and the cashier has an attitude, so she thinks to herself, “is the cashier having a bad day or are they a racist?” It really opened my eyes and made me think in ways that I hadn’t before.
“Your happiness is the one thing these assholes can’t stand.”
I am going to recommend A Very Large Expanse of Sea to anyone and everyone until I am blue in the face. I think this is such an important story that everyone should read. It was thoughtful and well written. A book full of relatable characters that have a place in my heart, hardships endured that never should have to be endured, and you can’t forget the breakdancing.
Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.
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