It’s no secret that Tahereh Mafi is one of my favorite teen book authors, but she’s really outdone herself with this one. A Very Large Expanse of Sea was her first realistic fiction book and I’m seriously hoping to see what more she can write in the genre. The story was emotional without being over-dramatic and refreshingly honest, which was the perfect tone, especially when it comes to controversial topics like this one. This story is in the same vein as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (another fantastic read, if you haven’t gotten around to it yet) but this one tells the story of a Muslim American teenager who is trying to navigate the post 9/11 world without getting herself hurt by the fallout.
Moving around for most of their lives has kept Shirin and her brother constantly on their toes and being Muslim Americans, they have been misunderstood and sometimes feared for being different, but after 9/11 happens, their peers fear them even more. In her new school, Shirin is ostracized because of her hijab, and is forced to constantly be on guard against the potential threat others pose and rarely lets anyone see who she truly is. Her love of music and breakdancing are what get her through the rough days until she meets Ocean, who sees who she is beyond her walls and wants to get to know her better. What will happen if Shirin lets him into her life? Her fear of being vulnerable and possibly hurt by him is almost too much for her to bear, but slowly she begins to let him in despite the racial and cultural divide between them. The pair face a tremendous amount of adversity because of their relationship, but they help each other through it and support each other despite what others think.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is one of the best realistic fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. Tahereh Mafi held no punches with this visceral and honest story - if you’re looking for what to read after The Hate U Give (TN THO), this is it. Read this one! If you’ve loved this book and want to read other stories like it, try Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (Jh ALI), Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (TN AHM), and The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah (TN ABD).