Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Book Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Book: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Author: Tahereh Mafi 

Pages: 307 pages 

Read on: Kindle 

Read in: 3-4 hours 

Plot Summary: It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

Things I Liked:

1. Set in 2002, this book brings to life the everyday struggles of being Muslim in post-9/11 America. Shirin wears a hijab and because of that has to face endless harassment in school and on the streets from perfect strangers. The hatred she faces on the daily has made her turn away from making friends and letting anyone into her life. Shirin's loneliness, the hatred she endures and her defense mechanisms are heartbreaking yet relatable. 

2. I loved the little break-dancing crew made up of Shirin's brother- Navid- and three of his friends. Their daily practice sessions was the only socialisation that Shirin had and she made the most of it. The camaraderie of that bunch and their dream of performing in the school talent show was just about the only "normal" teenager-y element in the book. 

3. Ocean and Shirin's love story is rather sweet. The way they fall for each other, Shirin trying to push Ocean away afraid that him being seen with her would jeopardise his basketball career... Ocean's attempts to convince her to the contrary- all of it was quite cute. 

4. Through this book, the author attempts to show how much like everyone else a Persian family is- not like I needed convincing of that fact, but it was nice nonetheless. I loved all chapters, which showed Shirin and Navid's parents, all the yummy descriptions of Persian food and just their daily lives. More books should show glimpses of "normal" family lives of the people of different cultures because it simply underscores the universal truth that all families, at a very basic level, are all the same. 

Things I Didn't Like: 

1.  The drama over Shirin-Ocean's relationship from multiple quarters of the school, including Ocean's coach, was a bit ridiculous! It was equally ridiculous that the whole brouhaha over their relationship died down almost as quickly as it happened. 

2. Also, Ocean's big angst in life was a bit meh. It seemed almost forced- like "let's give this white boy some deep angst, so that we can make him more relatable"! 

Rating: 3.5/5 

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