By Rita Nicholson
Usually I read books to escape reality, but A Very Large Expanse of Sea, by Tahereh Mafi, threw me into a harsher one instead. The book focuses on Shirin, a Muslim teenager, and her struggles with the rest of the world as she moves from school to school a year after 9/11. At her most recent school, Shirin meets Ocean James. He genuinely wants to get to know her (which is unusual because of most people’s reactions to Shirin’s ethnicity and religion), and this scares Shirin. The novel follows Shirin as she learns to open up.
I love the entire premise behind the story. In a lot of books, there are secondary Muslim characters, often included simply for diversity. A Very Large Expanse of Sea has a cast mostly comprised of minority characters, including Muslim. The real world badly needs this representation, and I’m so glad Mafi wrote about these characters.
So many people in the novel are horrible to Shirin purely because she’s different than the majority of them. Before reading this book, I had no idea what people like Shirin have gone through, often on a daily basis. A Very Large Expanse of Sea really opened my eyes to all the discrimination and injustice that so many people unnecessarily experience.
The story was beautifully written. It captured Shirin’s emotions really well. Whenever she was hurt, sad, angry or happy, I felt those same emotions too. It was evident through the writing that Shirin grew a lot as a person. She let go of her anger and tried to understand people more, even if they did not understand her in return.
Shirin, however, is one of the only characters who develops any, or even had that much depth to them in the first place. I wish all the other characters had deeper personalities. Break dancing is also supposedly a large part of the story, but not much is mentioned about it. Mafi herself is a break dancer, so I would have loved to see more of her personal experience incorporated throughout the story. A Very Large Expanse of Sea deals with harsh truths about the flaws of the world and how normal human beings are affected. It’s a very enlightening read in a world that desperately needs it.