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A Very Large Expanse of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

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Set in 2002, a year after 9/11, the world is a turbulent place but particularly for Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who is tired of being stereotyped. It never surprises Shirin the degrading comments, rude stares and even physical violence she must endure as a result of her race, religion and the hijab that she wears every day. Thanks to this Shirin refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her, instead putting her frustrations into music, breakdancing with her brother and sewing. Then she meets Ocean James, the first person in a long while that seems to want to get to know Shirin.

When I found out about this book and the fact that is was set a year after 9/11 and from the perspective of a Muslim girl I was interested. I am lucky enough to have never had remarks made about me because of the colour of my skin. So, I had no real idea about how much it could affect someone’s day to day life. I knew I had to give this book a read immediately.

38720939This book was excellent and has certainly made an impact on my view of a lot of things. It was a fast read for me and I feel that this was because it was so easy to just lose yourself in the story and not wanting to put it down when this happened.  The story is told in such an honest and raw way. It has moments of humour, sweet moments and heart-wrenching moments that bring the reality into the xenophobia in our society.

One of the main reasons I feel I enjoyed this book is that Shirin, the main character of the book is very much a reflection of Tahereh Mafi, the author. You can tell that the character Shirin is extremely personal to her. Shirin’s interests in fashion, writing and breakdancing all come from Taherah Mafi. So much of Taherah Mafi is in this novel and you can tell how much her heart was in it. This for me made the book for honest and authentic.

I love the character arc that Shirin went on throughout the book. I feel this is what made the book as powerful it is. As the book goes on, she learns more about herself and the people around her. Shirin’s character development was incredibly well written and one of my favourite aspects about this book.

The romance aspect of this book was also lovely. Although I do feel a little conflicted about how it played out. I loved Ocean and all that he added to the story. He is shy, kind and didn’t have a flat personality. I enjoyed the dynamic him and Shirin had also. However, as the book went on, the romance seemed to take over. The book became about their relationship more than anything else and I wasn’t the biggest fan of this. The romance was generally a positive addition to overall story though.

I feel as though everyone can learn something from reading this book in one way or another. I am also glad that Muslim teenagers have this book available for them to read. It still isn’t a common enough voice in YA and I am glad this book represents it so wonderfully. I hope this book and similar books continue to make a pathway for more representation in the future.

Overall, this book is excellent and will certainly be recommending it for a long while.

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