A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is a heart-touching contemporary novel about a young Muslim girl’s experience of post 9/11-America. 

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea marks a departure for Tahereh Mafi, who is best known for her fantasy series, Shatter Me. Her first foray into the world of contemporary fiction, A Very Large Expanse Of Sea, follows Shirin. It is the year after 9/11, and Shirin has just started at a new high school for the umpteenth time. As a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, who wears hijab, Shirin has come to expect cruelty wherever she goes. She hides away, drowning her frustrations in music and break-dancing. But then Shirin meets Ocean James, who is the first person who seems to really want to get to know her. He is not like everyone else, but Shirin will have to let down her guard that she has spent her whole teens building up if she is to let him in. 

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel. The story is based on an amalgamation of Mafi’s own experiences in high school. Her aim for the novel was to capture the turbulent emotions that she felt during her teens and to put them into words. This autobiographical notion is particularly powerful throughout the novel as Mafi captures Shirin’s experiences with Islamophobia and xenophobia. After seeing how Shirin gets treated, it is easy to see where her anger and defensiveness are born from. In this sense, Mafi does a fantastic job of inserting her readers into Shirin’s head and, thereby, her teenage self’s head. We are able to understand Shirin’s complex emotions even though we have not shared her experiences in our own lives. You cannot help but root for Shirin, and it was fantastic to see her really come into herself by the end of the novel. 

Shirin’s relationship with her brother Navid was adorable and heartwarming. As her older brother, he demonstrated an admirable level of brotherly protection for his sister, teaming up with his friends to take down the bullies tormenting her in school. It was also lovely to see Navid act as Shirin’s mentor, guiding her through her relationship troubles with Ocean and teaching her how to open up and trust others. Navid was the one who got Shirin into breakdancing, coaching her with his friends and encouraging her to participate in the school talent show. It was great to see Mafi participate in destroying the stereotypes of Muslim girls and what they can and cannot do. 

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is an eye-opening novel about what it means to be Muslim post-9/11. 

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