“We broke apart, fighting to breathe, holding on to each other like we were drowning in a very large expanse of sea.”
Shirin is a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl living in a post 9/11 America. At a young age she has experienced the hatred of people due to her religion. She’s built up protective walls and refuse to be remotely close to anyone at school. Then she meets Ocean. She knows the stakes of being close to him. There are only two choices: let people bully her into believing that she is trouble, or for once, fight for her happiness.
Tahereh Mafi’s “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” is one of the most perceptive stories in YA fiction. In this modern era, it is frustrating to realize that the same issues and problems hounding our society 50 years ago, racism, homophobia, sexism to name a few, persist up to this day. Mafi’s tackling of these problems through the eyes of Muslim teenager Shirin, makes this story more important in this day and age. It is a voice that needs to be heard.
“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” tackles Islamophobia at the center of its story. In a post 9/11 America, Shirin is a teenage Muslim girl who is the target of hate for her decision to wear a hijab. She lives in her own world, shutting down people and their hatred. Until she meets Ocean, the community’s rising basketball superstar. In a way, readers will be in a familiar YA territory with its teenage romance and high school story. But through the point of view of Shirin, we will see this familiar story in a different light. Shirin and Ocean’s Romeo and Juliet-like story seems too far-fetched at first glance, but people’s racism as told in the pages of the book is real.
Shirin’s voice in this story is deep which is uncharacteristic of a teenage figure. Her thoughts and how she sees the world are very telling. “I could no longer distinguish people from monsters. I looked out at the world around me and no longer saw nuance. I saw nothing but the potential for pain and the subsequent need to protect myself, constantly.”
But Mafi tries to fill some hope in the book. Shirin’s realizations during her relationship with Ocean as part of her character development include learning to be open-minded on other people’s perceptions. She discerns that most people are just frightened, “walking around in the dark.” But there’s a shortfall on this, giving people a pass without indicating that they must be educated. Mafi left her story with shrugging off people’s “breathtaking levels of hypocrisy.”
Geek Rate: Sun god Worthy (4 out of 5 stars). “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” is a powerful voice in a world that needs stories like this to understand the diversity in society. If there’s a flaw in this book, it’s the lack of development with its secondary characters. The story is told through the eyes of a teenager, so her world views are a little bit limited. But I admire Shirin’s courage, and through her, readers will learn about seeing light in dark times, and a different kind of bravery that does not let people’s bigotry and hypocrisy prevent you in pursuing your dreams.