A Very Large Expanse of Sea

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Book - 2018
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A year after 9/11, Muslim teenager Shirin has completely withdrawn from social life, until she meets Ocean James in her biology class and is tempted to actually let her guard down.
Publisher: New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2018]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062866561
Branch Call Number: YA MAFI 2018
Characteristics: 310 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

After 9/11, Shirin appears indifferent to her classmates, but when she is paired with star basketball player Ocean James, she wonders if she could possibly love someone.

Shirin, a Muslim teenager tired of constant racist harassment in the wake of 9/11, keeps everyone at a distance but begins to let down her guard with her biology partner, Ocean James.

From the critics

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I simultaneously feel like I've also been pierced in the chest while also being buoyed up with helium and happiness that this book is out in the world. This is a wonderful story about two human beings meeting and falling in love, of breaking down the barriers we build against the world in order to protect ourselves. But perhaps more importantly, it's about racism, xenophobia, and people's horrible tendency to "other" their peers. It's about how people deal with that tendency. It's unflinching, it's raw, and it's real. And it's so, so lovely for all of that.

I am a white Canadian, and being a white Canadian, I have not experienced any of the things that Shirin experiences over the course of this novel. Reading this felt like a punch to the gut, a stark reminder of how different other people's lives are in comparison to the privilege that I've always had just because of where I was born and the colour of my skin. It's unfair, it's cruel, it's absolutely heartbreaking - and I'm so glad that Tahereh didn't shy away from giving us details. We, as a society, need this book.

This could have easily just been a fluffy contemporary, but Shirin and Ocean and their stories are woven so intrinsically with the colours of their skin and the places they were born that it went so much deeper than that. There are so many things that Shirin has to fight against in order to go about her life, that Ocean just doesn't have to face, but his struggles are also never trivialized. Tahereh deftly balances the two of them and the whole thing made me so mad at the world, but also so glad that we live in a time where this can all be written about. We need to talk about this. About racism and the violence done against others and the ways that we, as a society, need to do better.

The only reason I left a star off is because sometimes I don't vibe so well with the writing. It's reminiscent of Shatter Me at points, with a lot of commas and run-ons, and it just jarred me sometimes. However, story-wise, I do think this is an important book. It's a book anyone could, and SHOULD, pick up. It's mind-opening, empathy-inducing, and starkly real in a way a lot of contemporary isn't.

HKK_Teen_Staff Apr 10, 2020

A powerful, heartbreaking, contemplative look at prejudice from the eyes of a Muslim teen after 9/11. The story takes place in 2002, but feels so relevant to today. I loved being a part of Shirin’s story. One of my favorites from 2018.

Feb 29, 2020

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi is YA novel about, Shirin, a Muslim sixteen year old girl who wears a hijab, starting in a new high school one year after 9/11. This is a well written, complicated, and authentic story of that sophomore year in Shirin life. It is also straight forward and understandable. This is the year she falls in love, becomes a breakdancer, faces discrimination, try’s to do the right thing, and so much more. She learns about herself as the year unfolds.

Tahereh Mafi has created characters and situations that ring true. She was a high school sophomore 2002, the year after 9/11. She writes in a way that engages the reader to feel for Shirin and those around her. This is a good read! I recommend it.

Feb 24, 2020

A very cute and heart warming read. I really enjoyed reading this book, and was given to me through a Christmas book exchange party.

LPL_MaryW Jan 09, 2020

This book really moved me. It was so raw and honest and beautiful, and I adored it - I might even reread it sometime. It's about a Muslim American girl named Shirin, who guards herself against others because she is constantly harassed in post-911 America (and it's 2002, so). She wears hijab, she loves breakdancing with her brother (so cool!), and she doesn't have any friends. Not until she meets Ocean, who is kind to her, who is very very interested in her, and with whom she tries desperately not to fall in love. But maybe love is just what she needs? Shirin's romantic self-sabotage was something I could relate to on a molecular level, and I had never read another book that featured that quality. One of my favorite YA books ever - I will carry this story with me for a long time.

Lots of language. Do not recomend it to anyone who is language sensitive
I will never read this book again.

This book is definitely a must-read for tween or teen readers. This book is a magical resemblance of compassion and love, I hold this book close to my heart.

Apr 28, 2019

I raced through this lovely little YA novel, thoroughly engaged with the characters. I appreciated the representation of the daily, hourly, microaggressions that people in the dominant culture seem to feel so entitled in directing to people who are 'other,' especially after 9/11: “I was so raw from repeated exposure to cruelty that now even the most minor abrasions left a mark.” Shirin's anger and non-engagement from her surroundings make perfect sense: “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.” I appreciated that the author made the point that it is not up to the marginalized to educate the people in the dominant culture. I appreciated the gap between parents and children, contextualized in the kind of aggressions they experienced, and leading to a failure of empathy, parent to child: “People had been shitting on me for having the wrong name/race/religion and socioeconomic status since as far back as I could remember, but my life had been so easy in comparison to my parents’ own upbringing that they genuinely couldn’t understand why I didn’t wake up singing every morning.” And I appreciated the step into complexity, recognizing that the stereotyping goes both ways. “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.” All of this in the context of a sweet love story, and Shirin's maturing: “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....” My only hesitation: I was as shocked as Shirin was at the mercurial shift in her popularity at school -- success at breakdancing is sufficient to overcome Islamaphobia?

JCLMegB Feb 27, 2019

Warning: You’ll laugh, you might cry, and you probably won’t be able to put this phenomenal book down.
The main character, Shirin, is justifiably angry, bitter, and hardened. She’s been shuffled an unenviable hand as a Persian-American Muslim woman wearing a headscarf to her new high school in a post-9/11 America. Shririn’s character is so fleshed out, you’ll half expect her to breakdance out of the pages. And in this book, you get to ride along as Shirin finds reasons to let her heart and her spirit soften a bit.
The author masterfully captures and portrays the filth of racism as well as the electricity that is mutual teenage first love. Ocean (yes, that’s really his name) is awoken from his white male privilege as he witnesses first-hand the hate and racism that is thrown at Shirin. And in so many ways, Shirin awakes to discover that even though humans can be truly awful to one another, rushing to judgment and building up walls is never the way to go.
In a day and age in the US when fear and the groupthink phenomenon are so prevalent, this book is a must-read.

Jan 24, 2019

I love that Shin is angry. I love that Shin chooses to put up walls and has to deal, at least a little bit, with what that means when she doesn't quite pay *enough* attention to the stuff outside those walls.

Most of all, I love that this feels real. It feels complete. The romance is a little on the soppy insta-love side -- but really, teens can feel that way for sure. It doesn't feel unrealistic (even if it doesn't feel like it'd last forever).

This book was great. Heartbreaking and soothing and powerful and inspirational all at once.

And I really just want to learn to breakdance now.

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Add Age Suitability
Apr 02, 2020

frenchhornistba thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

OPL_KrisC Feb 20, 2020

OPL_KrisC thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

green_butterfly_2142 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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JCLEmilyD Dec 28, 2018

"...you sacrificed my comfort just to make yourself seem progressive. You put me in that shitty situation because you thought it would be shocking and exciting." (p.123-124)

JCLEmilyD Dec 27, 2018

"People struggled to believe this, because people struggled to believe women in general. It was one of the greatest frustrations of my life."


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