Tahereh Mafi is one of my all-time favourite authors. I haven’t read everything by her, however, most of what I have read was more in the dystopian (??? gosh, I am terrible with genres) category, whereas A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Mafi’s first YA contemporary! I wasn’t sure how her writing style would translate to this genre, but it was a truly amazing read!
Where to even start? Set one year after the terrible events of 9/11, it chronicles a particularly memorable time for Muslim teenager Shirin. You can immediately tell that it is a very personal story and while I don’t know all the specifics that went into this book, I am certain that Tahereh drew some parts of it from her own experiences. Even though I can’t say I was really a teen in 2002 just yet myself, I was slowly getting there, and it instantly brought back some memories from that peculiar time. I remember the news reports and the fear and all that even though I was living on an entirely different continent. But I also associate those years with a certain kind of nostalgia, when everything was getting more digitalised while not quite being there yet.
Aside from a setting I could easily wrap my head around, I was most enamored with the characters. Shirin is a no-bullshit kind of narrator and a really smart one at that. She manages to paint a picture of all the people in her life in a way that makes them seem real, even if you only meet them briefly on the page. Her growing relationship to Ocean was exactly how I picture teens in love for the first time. Everything happened fast but at the same time with caution and the awareness that the other person might just have the power to break their heart.
The entire story tackled so many different topics. This isn’t just a love story, although there certainly is a focus on it, but also a tale about family, friendship, finding your passions and having to handle racism and Islamophobia. It hurts deeply to know that there are such vastly ignorant and hateful people out there. I always wished that those parts of the story were fiction only, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
Lastly, Tahereh Mafi finished the story off in the most bittersweet way. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I am not going to go into the details here, but it felt right to end it in that certain way, while you also wanted so much more afterwards.
Fazit: 4/5 stars! This book was packed with so much in such few pages in comparison.
Have you read A Very Large Expanse of Sea? Is it something you’d be interested in? How did you feel about Tahereh writing in another genre? Let’s talk about it!