Imagine being born and raised in a country that never once felt like home. Instead of feeling welcomed with open arms, these strangers take it upon themselves to decide how you will be seen, heard, treated..
How do you cope with all that anger and pain, directed at you—especially as a teenager?
Luckily for us—and the world— New York Times bestselling #ownvoices author Tahereh Mafi has written a brilliant book that is ready to tackle these heavy themes that will shape minds, change hearts, and change the world. It’s also, might we say, gorgeous both inside and out. AKA, you need to move this to the top of your TBR pile ASAP.
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A Very Large Expanse of Sea is breathtaking in its subject matter, its incredible physical and emotional stakes, its writing and in its very existence. Mafi wrote this high school romance inspired by events in her own life.
AVLEOS is set in 2002, a year after 9/11, when the country was in throes of panic and chaos. Anger and fear were exploding in the streets, and for main character Shirin, a Muslim-American teen, life has taken a turn for the worse. Shirin is tormented wherever she goes and has kept walls up around her for as long as she can remember. Keeping silent and breakdancing with her bother have been her two coping mechanisms to dealing with the degradation, judgments, and hateful stares directed her way because of her choice to wear hijab. No one, in all the small towns she’s ever lived, has ever made an effort to get to know the real Shirin—until Ocean James.
Ocean is the opposite of Shirin in so many ways; it’s like they inhabit two different worlds. He couldn’t possibly know what she’s going through, what it feels like to walk in her shoes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try. That’s what makes AVLEOS so important: it shows that even if you can’t personally relate to someone different than you, it is your responsibility to listen to the stories and experiences of others. Only when we open our ears and minds and hearts can we allow love to flow in, and all rise up together.
It is heartbreaking, but it is also fiercely hopeful. Through the events that unfold we are able to see the power we wield in making or breaking someone’s life. Our actions matter. Our words matter. Every day.
Here are even more standout reasons to love A Very Large Expanse of Sea:
Why You Need to Be Reading ‘A Very Large Expanse of Sea’
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is an emotionally stunning tour de force, and a huge artistic accomplishment for Mafi. There are so many memorable parts that stick out. An addicting, compulsively readable romance for the ages. A fierce and lovable family that works hard every day for better opportunities. Characters from different worlds that have whole galaxies to teach each other—and themselves.
Shirin is our everything:
We dare you not to fall in love with Shirin’s indomitable character. She’s been through so much, yet through it all she refuses to let others decide her identity for her, even as “people talked over me, they talked for me, they discussed me without ever asking my opinion […] I was no longer free to be only a teenager […] I had to be more than that.” She stands up for herself and has no problem telling other people when they say something offensive. Basically, Shirin takes no bullshit, which makes her intimidating to some.
But here’s a secret we’ll let you in on: Shirin is one of the most heartwarming characters we’ve had the pleasure of meeting on the page. We hate that she is forced to live in such a hostile environment because we see who she really is: an incredible young woman who deserves the moon and more.
It’s not just a love story:
It’s so much more. With explorations of Persian culture, budding friendships, familial relationships—not to mention some seriously badass breakdancing—romance is just one part of the long list of things to be adored in this book.
That being said… it is completely a love story:
The love between Shirin and Ocean actually made us gasp and clutch our hearts at some points. It is extraordinarily tender and intense and true. It gave us all the feels we thought we forgot, and reminded us that love is one of the most profound learning experiences of all.
It is a much-needed voice, then and now:
It was a turbulent time in 2002, and it is a turbulent time now—we know this.
Unfortunately, these feelings aren’t new to many people, and in fact this fear has existed longer than we may care to imagine. This shouldn’t make us defensive—rather, we should strive to come together and open our ears and hearts to the stories of people who for so long have gone unnoticed, unheard.
Bottom line: We need more books and stories like this, written by artists who get it. To those who have for so long stayed silent, we say: we need you now.