A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is a YA Romance inspired by the author’s own experiences with breakdancing, love, and the prejudices she faced as a Muslim woman after 9/11.
“It didn’t matter that I was just as shaken and horrified as everyone else; no one believed my grief. People I’d never met were suddenly accusing me of murder. Strangers would scream at me in the street, at school, in the grocery store to go home” (159).
It’s 2002, and 16-year-old Shirin (pronounced She-Reen—gorgeous name) is sick of being stereotyped. She’s sick of the name-calling, the rude stares, and most of all, the physical violence she has to endure on a day to day basis because she wears a hijab.
As her family has moved from place to place over the years, Shirin has learned not to trust anyone. She’s given up on trying to befriend people or fit in ’cause what’s the point? All anyone ever sees is her race and religion. They can’t be bothered to get to know her, so why should she try?
At her new school, Shirin spends her mornings with headphones in her ears, drowning out her frustrations with the teachers and classmates, trying to be as invisible as possible. By the afternoon, though, Shirin is with her older brother and his friends, learning how to breakdance.
Breakdancing is Shirin’s passion. She loves getting lost in the movement and the beat. When Shirin breakdances, she’s free to be herself.
I have to say, I adore Shirin as a character. Her “I no longer give a —” attitude to all the people who called her a terrorist and told her to go back to Afghanistan (she was born and raised in America and has never been) had me applauding her time and time again. She’s a strong character with weaknesses that made me love her even more. The way she deals with adversity in this book is just— astounding.
Now, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a YA Romance—which I usually avoid—but funnily enough, I didn’t know it was a romance when I requested it from the library.
So, I was surprised when the story suddenly took a romantic turn.
Shirin is “forced” to interact with her lab partner, Ocean James (what is it with lab partners and teen romances? I don’t get it). He’s “very Ken-Barbie” (author’s words, not mine), and the only person at school who genuinely tries to get to know Shirin, even though she doesn’t want anything to do with him. As they work on assignments together, Ocean sees Shirin for who she is rather than what she looks like, and naturally, Shirin doesn’t know how to deal with someone who actually cares about her.
There’s a lot of “I like him,” “I don’t like him,” “he’ll hurt me,” “he’d never hurt me,” which considering all the crap Shirin’s been through over the past year, I can see why’d she feel this way.
As her relationship with Ocean blossoms into something more, Shirin finds herself thrust into the spotlight when she discovers Ocean is the Troy Bolton of their high school.
That’s right. Ocean is the star basketball player in a school that is OBSESSED with basketball…and yet…Shirin had no idea…?
From this point on, the story gets a little High School Musical. Everyone at the school (including Ocean’s basketball coach and even his mother) want him to “keep his head in the game” and get rid of all distractions so he can play well and win.
Shirin is a distraction, and seeing her holding hands with Ocean sends everyone into a frenzy. They’re not “sticking to the status quo” like they should be and because of this, everyone around them goes to great lengths to split them up.
I’ll spare the details to avoid spoilers, but I will say what they do to Shirin is pretty upsetting, and just plain WRONG. This poor girl can’t catch a break! She doesn’t deserve any of this hate.
In the end, A Very Large Expanse of Sea surprised me. The ending itself was unexpected, which I thoroughly enjoyed (especially the last paragraph—so good!), and even though the romance did take over a good chunk of the story (as is expected in this genre), I still found myself invested in what was going on. Shirin’s character is the epitome of having strength in adversity, and her story is so important. Everyone should read this book, so they can enter into her world and see what life is like through her eyes.
Now, there were some flaws in the writing. Nothing too major, but it was enough to drive me crazy at times, and that had to do with the world “felt.” This word was used so many times throughout this novel! I swear, if I had a dollar for every time this word appears, I’d have $300—not even joking.
“I felt a jolt of feeling flood through me.”
“I felt a sudden, sick feeling settle in my gut.”
“I felt suddenly impotent with rage. I felt it dissolving my brain.”
“I felt awful and embarrassed. I felt so dumb that I hadn’t known […] I felt dumb that I’d never asked. I felt suddenly frustrated that I’d ditched all those pep rallies.”
I don’t know why this word is in just about every other sentence (sometimes twice in the same sentence), but “felt” is a word used to tell the reader how a character is feeling rather than showing the reader how a character is feeling through action. Remove the “felt” words and you get a sentence like this: “A jolt flooded through me.”
Other than that, the rest of the novel was pretty solid.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea
I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. The writing was fairly decent (why so many “felt” words?!?), and even though I wasn’t a fan of the romance taking over the story at times, A Very Large Expanse of Sea IS a YA Romance. I’m not going to fault a story for following it’s target audience. Not only that, but Shirin’s character is the star of the show anyway. Read this book for her!
So, what are your thoughts? Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in comments down below!