BOOK REVIEW | A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

TITLE: A Very Large Expanse of Sea
AUTHOR: Tahereh Mafi
PAGE COUNT: 310 pages
PUBLISHER: HarperTeen
PUBLICATION DATE: 16 October 2018
GENRE: Young Adult, Contemporary & Romance

SYNOPSIS: 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.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea was the kind of book I did not know I needed this much. I am finding it hard to express how I feel. It is, without a doubt, one of the best and most impacting contemporary books I have ever read.

This novel had my attention the entire time and it was one of those books you enjoy reading and learning from so much, that you just cannot put it down.

The characters also felt so real. Tahereh Mafi did an amazing describing each character and their own stories. Shirin felt like a friend and someone who I wished I could talk to. I wanted to be there for her, listen to her stories if she needed to talk to someone about it all and to protect her in any way I could. She was and character filled humour, cleverness, hurt and anger and all that made her one of the most memorable.

It is such an important read and the author wrote it in a way that made me feel as if I was there, walking next to this really strong character, experiencing it all with her. It is a book I highly recommend as it will definitely end up changing a thing or two deep inside your heart.



If the decision you’ve made has brought you closer to humanity, then you’ve done the right thing.

I didn’t believe it was possible to hide a woman’s beauty. I thought women were gorgeous no matter what they wore, and I didn’t think they owed anyone an explanation for their sartorial choices. Different women felt comfortable in different outfits.
They were all beautiful.

I wondered, for the very first time, if maybe I was doing this whole thing wrong. If maybe I’d allowed myself to be blinded by my own anger to the exclusion of all else. If maybe, just maybe, I’d been so determined not to be stereotyped that I’d begun to stereotype everyone around me.

I understood too well what it was like to feel like you were defined by one superficial thing- to feel like you would never escape the box people had put you in.

Because i always say that. I always say that i don’t care what other people think. I say it doesn’t bother me, that i don’t give a shit about the opinions of assholes but it’s not true. It’s not true, because it huts every time, and that means i still care. It means i’m still not strong enough because every time someone says something rude, it hurts. it never stops hurting. It only gets easier to recover.

The more I got to know people, the more I realized we were all just a bunch of frightened idiots walking around in the dark, bumping into each other and panicking for no reason at all.
So I started turning on a light.
I stopped thinking of people as mobs. Hordes. Faceless masses. I tried, really hard, to stop assuming I had people figured out, especially before I’d ever even spoken to them. I wasn’t great at this—and I’d probably have to work at it for the rest of my life—but I tried. I really did. It scared me to realize that I’d done to others exactly what I hadn’t wanted them to do to me: I made sweeping statements about who I thought they were and how they lived their lives; and I made broad generalizations about what I thought they were thinking, all the time.

I mean, I wasn’t fine. I would be fine. But I wasn’t there yet.

Be honest. Remember, honesty is everything. Without it, we can never move forward. We can never have productive discussions. So be honest.

Maybe it was enough, i thought, that i knew someone like him existed in this world. Maybe it was enough that our lives had merged and diverged and left us both transformed. Maybe it was enough to have learned that i love was the unexpected weapon, that it was the knife i’d needed to cut through the Kevlar i wore every day.

I felt like crying. I felt like crying and screaming all at the same time, but i didn’t want to give in to feeling. I just wanted to push through this. I wanted to survive it with out losing my head.

Ocean had given me hope. He’d made me believe in people again. His sincerity had rubbed me raw, had peeled back the stubborn layers of anger I’d lived in for so long. Ocean made me want to give the world a second chance.

“Hey,” he whispered. “Don’t do this, okay? Don’t give up on me. I’m not going anywhere.” 

I was stuck in another small town, trapped in another universe populated by the kind of people who’d only ever seen faces like mine on their evening news, and I hated it.

“Ocean, azizam,” she said, “please tell Shirin she should stop swearing so much. It’s always asshole this, bullshit that. I say to her, Shirin joon, why are you so obsessed with shit? Why everything is shit?” 

Music made my day so much easier. Walking through the halls at school was somehow easier; sitting alone all the time was easier. I loved that no one could tell i was listening to music and that, because no one knew, i was never asked to turn it off. I’d had multiple conversations with teachers who had no idea i was only half hearing whatever they were saying to me, and for some reason this made me happy. Music seemed to steady me like a second skeleton; I leaned on it when my own bones were too shaken to stand. I always listened to music on the iPod i’d stolen from my brother, and here- as i did last year, when he first bought the thing- I walked to class like i was listening to the soundtrack of my own shitty movie. It gave me an inexplecable kind of hope.

I was so raw from repeated exposure to cruelty that now even the most minor abrasions left a mark.

“Please don’t walk away from me because you’re worried about the opinions of racists and assholes. Walk away from me because you hate me,” he said. “Tell me you think I’m stupid and ugly and I swear this would hurt less.”

I had never, ever touched someone and felt like this: like I was holding electricity inside of me.

He kept trying to be nice to me and, in an unexpected turn of events, his kindness left me angry and confused. I pushed him away because i was afraid to be even remotely close to someone who, i was certain, would one day hurt me. I trusted no one anymore. I was so raw from repeated exposure to cruelty that now even the most minor abrasions left a mark.

I could no longer distinguish people from monsters. I looked out at the world around me and no longer saw nuance. I saw nothing but the potential for pain and the subsequent need to protect myself, constantly.

“How can you say that?” he said, and I heard his voice break. “How can you even think that? I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I want everything with you,” he said. “I want all of it with you. I want you. I want this forever.” 

My body felt like it was now made entirely of nerves, like muscle and bone had been removed to make room for all this new emotion.

“I’ve been trying to educate people for years and it’s exhausting. I’m tired of being patient with bigots. I’m tired of trying to explain why I don’t deserve to be treated like a piece of shit all the time. I’m tired of begging everyone to understand that people of color aren’t all the same, that we don’t all believe the same things or feel the same things or experience the world the same way.” I shook my head, hard. “I’m just– I’m sick and tired of trying to explain to the world why racism is bad, okay? Why is that my job?” 

Still, we took what we could get. We were wrapped up in each other, feeling happy and sad all at once, pretty much all the time.



Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Shatter Me series. She was born in a small city somewhere in Connecticut and currently resides in Santa Monica, California with her husband, fellow author Ransom Riggs. She can usually be found over-caffeinated and stuck in a book. Shatter Me is her first series, with television rights optioned by ABC Signature Studios; Furthermore, her first middle grade novel, is on shelves now, and Whichwood, its darker companion, will be on shelves November 14, 2017.


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