Review – A Very Large Expanse of Sea

“If the decision you’ve made has brought you closer to humanity, then you’ve done the right thing.”

– Tahereh Mafi, A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Tahereh Mafi’s latest novel was my first read of 2019 and I am so happy I chose this as the book to begin my year with. I’ve never read a Tahereh Mafi book (despite owning some of them) and if I am being honest I picked this up from my local bookstore expecting something light and easy to read, the cover and spine caught my attention and that was all I needed to convince me, but it turned out to be so much more than that.

This story is about a 16 year old Muslim girl named Shirin, who is navigating life and high-school a year after the tragedy of 9/11. She has experienced degrading comments, stares and physical violence due to her race ever since that day.

As a character, I found Shirin absolutely refreshing, honest and raw. Her emotions felt unnervingly real and I was overwhelmed with happiness, disappointment, anger and heart break as I followed her experiences in the world. Tahereh Mafi did a fantastic job at portraying a 16 year old girl in her writing, her dialogue was not too mature, which is something I see often in YA novels.

Shirin’s friend and on/off love interest Ocean James felt just as real as Shirin herself. Although I would have loved for his story to be fleshed out a little more, his curiosities and interests in Shirin were believable and I found that I had a lot of empathy for him. His conversations with Shirin were always sincere and he is the kind of thoughtful and caring male character I wished all teenage girls had in their lives.

“Ocean had given me hope. He’d made me believe in people again. His sincerity had rubbed me raw, had peeled back the stubborn layers of anger I’d lived in for so long. Ocean made me want to give the world a second chance.”

– Tahereh Mafi, A Very Large Expanse of Sea

This book is about Shirin’s coming of age story, she has spent the better part of her life being told by strangers that she doesn’t belong, and she has put up these walls to stop herself from getting hurt. Early on she found solace is her music and breakdancing. Knowing that High School wouldn’t last forever was all that was keeping her from giving up on the whole system.

I think this is an important book for adults and teenagers alike to read, it showcases how cruel people can be, and in an environment that is built for nurturing and guiding young people into becoming functioning members of society. This is a work of fiction, but it is clearly influenced by the experiences that Tahereh had as a teenager, and as an adult I think it’s important to be reminded that our youth aren’t weak or soft, and that their experiences can be just as dark as anything we experience as adults.

My rating for A Very Large Expanse Of Sea has changed a little over the last few weeks since I finished reading it. At first I rated it 4 stars, a little disappointed with how the story was finished. But since then I have changed my rating to a 4.5, as I have come to the realisation that the ending didn’t need to be more than it was, it wasn’t a happily ever after. But it was an amazing and hard lesson learned.


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