‘A Very Large Expanse of Sea’ sweet, yet lacking


Life is hell after the events of 9/11 for teenage Muslim girl Shirin, especially at every school she enrolls in when her family moves.

Shirin thought she’d be accustomed to the leers and racist comments of the people who judge her for the headscarf she wears. She thought she’d stopped caring about how others see her and the people she goes to school with. She thought she was fine being in her own bubble, content in breakdancing with her brother and crafting outfits, angry at everyone all the time for the poor treatment she receives daily.

That is until she meets Ocean, a kind boy at school who tries to talk to her constantly. Shirin thinks she can shake this boy away from her but soon finds herself drawing closer to him. As their relationship deepens, however, outside forces and Shirin’s daily struggles and fears threaten to separate them.

“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” is a contemporary YA novel written by Tahereh Mafi, an author frequently recognized for her vibrant writing style. The novel doesn’t exhibit as much lyrical language as her previous work, but as a contemporary novel, it has a nice sprinkle of vivid language that readers recognize as her voice and style.

Mafi did very well in exhibiting Shirin’s frustrations and humiliations during scenes where she battles racism and hateful comments and actions from school peers and teachers, igniting emotions of empathy and realization in readers and giving prime examples of the hurt racism inflicts.

Shirin’s more positive emotions such as first-time love and excitement for breakdancing are also shown quite nicely, and this is where Mafi’s lyrical voice shines. Mafi details Shirin’s inner emotions in such delicate and intricate words and phrases that are pleasant to read and clear to recognize.

However, while the writing of the story was lovely, the budding relationship between Ocean and Shirin, while cute most of the time, felt a little quick and dominant in the plot of the story. While the primary focus of the story centers around Shirin breaking down her walls because of the growing love she develops for Ocean, it felt as though the story could’ve been bigger.

The book advertises itself as a window into the life of a Muslim girl after the terrorism of 9/11, and while we do get a taste of Shirin’s struggles and the awful treatment she is given in her daily life, it felt as though the novel focused more on her relationship with Ocean rather than the issue of racism itself.

Although Young Adult novels are recognized more for their entertaining and mind-numbing plots, that doesn’t mean it can’t do something different and center around an important, relevant issue.

While a story about the budding romance between a Muslim girl and a white boy is endearing, the book felt like it could’ve done more with the themes it grasped. It could’ve focused more on Shirin’s struggles and hopes, instead of romance taking the wheel over an important topic such as racism.

“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” was a pleasurable and quick read with a lovely and suiting writing style. However, while the title suggests otherwise, the story could’ve been bigger than what it ended up being.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)