When I started listening to A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, I honestly didn’t know much about it, other than the story takes place in 2002 and is told from the point of view of a Muslim American high school student. However, I know it was very popular the year it was published, and I’ve had it on my Goodreads TBR list since early 2018, so when it was available to “borrow now!” I decided to give it a try.
The story centers around Shirin, a practicing Muslim high school student and the stereotypes that she is confronted with on a nearly daily basis, and the looks and comments generated by her hijab. Things are almost worse for her due to her family’s habit of relocating fairly regularly, so she’s constantly going through the growing pains that come with meeting new people. High school students are notoriously terrible to each other, and honestly? You get the feeling that Shirin is pretty much over even trying to find new friends. She’s really most happy when doing something creative – listening to music, buying vintage clothes to remake to match her own style, and break-dancing with her older brother Navid and some of his buddies.
But when her Bio lab partner, Ocean James, starts making overtures and tries to be her friends, it throws her carefully constructed aloof persona into a tailspin.
There were several things I liked about this book, but in particular I appreciated that Mafi allowed Shirin to really examine how many of her own implicit biases she was carrying with her when she was interacting with, and reacting to, the others around her that she had always perceived as being racist. Throughout the story, Shirin examines whether her own preconceived ideas of what people thought of her were impacting her relationships – or, in some cases, even preventing her from forming new relationships.
The book manages to teach without being preachy, and also a young-love-with-complications story without being saccharine, and I really enjoyed it!
I’m also counting this book as my finish for the Open Your Mind prompt from our 2021 Book Challenge. So there’s one off the list!
Have you read this book, or any similar? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, below!