This book is so difficult to rate. I really, really wanted to love it, but sadly I didn’t no matter how much I tried. This book had the potential of being the THUG for a Muslim main character, but unfortunately it did not live up to that.
I loved the first books in The Shatter Me-series by Tahereh Mafi and her unique, beautiful writing style just blew me off. So when I found out that she had written a new book with a Muslim main character who is completely herself, I had such high expectations of another wonderful breathtaking reading experience. Unfortunately though, the writing style is not at all the same in this book. The language is much more plain and nowhere near the feverish, raw, amazing way in which The Shatter Me-series was written. My biggest problem however, was the main character and the rushed romance.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a coming-of-age story following Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, in the extremely turbulent times after 9/11. Tired of all the rude stares, degrading comments, even the physical violence, she’s met with, Shirin has 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 and his friends. Until she meets Ocean, who sees her for who she is behind the stereotypes and refuses to let her rejection keep him from getting to know her better. Slowly, slowly he manages to break down her walls. (Yes, the title of the book is a very clever and poetic way of naming the book after Shirin’s love interest.)
Story-wise, I feel that this book could have been so much more. I have settled for a 3 star rating of this book, since it on the one hand was very emotional and heart-breaking, showing Shirin’s anger and frustration at all the injustice and prejudice she’s suffering, but on the other hand, I didn’t connect with Shirin and the story was written in a tell-not-show-way while leaving too much out to make you fully invested in the story. There was so much more I wanted to know; like how could her parents be both so controlling and yet so disturbingly uninterested in her struggles, how was Shirin’s connection to her faith, did she pray, what did she think about kissing and being with a non-Muslim boy from that perspective, and more about the friendship with her breakdance-crew. I understand why Shirin kept everyone at arm’s length, but as a reader it was frustrating not to learn more about her thoughts and considerations. It also made the romance less real, less emotional, than it could have been. Ocean was adorable, so sweet and kind, but you never got really close to him either. It was as if he was too perfect to be a real person somehow. I wish it could have been more of Shirin actually seeing Ocean playing basket and being with his friends, to allow us readers to see him through her eyes. The romance and the story felt rushed, and I couldn’t invest emotionally in it as much as I’d like to, especially considering that it was such a huge part of the book.
Still, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is an important, emotional book dealing with racism in post-9/11 America, showing the anger, pain and struggle that a Muslim teenager may have to deal with and how horrible, hateful, mean and prejudice people can be. And even though the romance part wasn’t one of my favorites, the sibling relationship between Shirin and her older brother Navid was. I think Navid is now one of my favorite book brothers of all time. He was so protective of her, but also so supportive in the decisions she made. I just wish that the book had been MORE. More of Shirin’s sense of identity, her religious and cultural beliefs. More of her friendship with the breakdancing crew. More of the relationship with her brother and parents. So even though this book did not live up to my expectations, I’m still, really happy that it exists for Muslim teens to identify with and for opening the eyes of readers to all the horrible islamophobia in the world.
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All 1 Star 2 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars Abbi Glines Abdi Nazemian Adam Silvera Adib Khorram Aiden Thomas Aisha Saeed Aislinn Brophy AJ Collins Alexandra Christo Alex Beltran Alexene Farol Follmuth Alexis Hall Alex Kelly Alex Sanchez Alice Dolman Alice Oseman Ali Hazelwood Alison Cochrun Al Riske Alwyn Hamilton Amanda Ferreira A. Meredith Walters Amy Aislin Amy Harmon Amy S. Foster Amy Spalding André Aciman Andy V Roamer Angie Thomas Annabeth Albert A. Poland Ashley Poston Ashley Woodfolk Ashlyn Kane Audrey Coulthurst Becca Fitzpatrick Becky Albertalli Benjamin Alire Saenz Beth Bolden Bill Konigsberg B.L. Maxwell Briar Prescott Bri Spicer Brooke Skipstone Cale Dietrich Casey McQuiston Cassandra Clare C.F. White C.G. Drews Charli Meadows Chris Bedell Ciara Smyth Clarissa Pattern C.L. Beaumont Colette Davison Colleen Hoover Crystal Frasier C.S. Pacat Daven McQueen David Biddle David Yoon Dean Atta Debbie McGowan Debbie Rigaud Debbie Schrack Deborah Harkness Delia Owens Deonn Tracy D.G. Carothers Dhonielle Clayton Douglas Stuart Dustin Thao Elisa A. Bonnin Elizabeth Acevedo Elizabeth Arroyo Elle Kennedy Elle Wright E. Lockhart Emily M. Danforth Emily Mims Erin Watt Ernest Cline Evan J. Corbin Eve Morton Everina Maxwell Evie Dunmore Felice Stevens Grace Williams Gwen Martin Hanya Yanagihara Hayden Stone Heather Truett H.E. Edgmon Hettie Bell Holly Black Hope Irving Hudson Lin Ingrid Sterling Jacqueline Lee Jacqueline Woodson Jamie Deacon Jandy Nelson Jax Calder Jay Hogan Jeanette Winterson Jeff Zentner Jenna Evans Welch Jenn Burke Jennifer E. Smith Jennifer G. Edelson Jennifer Gilmore Jennifer Iacopelli Jennifer Kropf Jennifer Niven Jenny Downham Jenny Han Jeremy Ray Jesse H. Reign Joelle Lynne John Green Jonny Garza Villa Julianne Donaldson Julian Winters Kacen Callender Kami Garcia Kara Leigh Miller Kasie West Kate Larkindale Katharine McGee Kathleen Mareé KD Casey Kendall Grey Kevin Van Whye Kiley Reid Kim Fielding Kim Holden Kim Liggett Kitty Bardot Kris Ripper K.S. Marsden Laura Hall Laura Pavlov Laura Silverman Lauren James Laurie Frankel Leah Johnson Lee Matthew Goldberg Leigh Bardugo Leylah Attar Lisa Henry Lisa Williamson Lisa Wingate Liv Rancourt Liz Plum Lola Noire Lynn Michaels Mackenzi Lee Madeline Miller Magdalena Di Sotru Maggie Doolin Maggie Stiefvater Malin Persson Giolito Malorie Blackman Margaret Stohl Marie Lu Mary E. Pearson Mason Deaver Matthew R. Corr Melina Marchetta Meredith Russo Miel Moreland Mila Gray Miranda Kenneally Moa Backe Astot Morgan James M. Tasia Nancy Garden Natalie Haynes Nicholas Sparks Nicola Yoon Nic Starr Nic Stone Nina Kenwood Nita Tyndall Nora Sakavic N.R. Walker Owen Lach Penny Aimes Phil Stamper Quinn Anderson Rachael Brownell Rachael Lippincott Rachel Hawkins Rainbow Rowell Ray Stoeve Renée Dahlia Rhiannon Wilde Riley Hart River Braun Roan Parrish Robin Gow Roseanne A. Brown Rowan MacKemsley Ruby Moone Ruta Sepetys Ryan La Sala Sally Green Sally Rooney Sarah J. Maas Sarah Waters Sarina Bowen Sasha Laurens Saundra Mitchell Saxon James Serena Bell Shannon O’Connor Sidney Bell Simone Elkeles Siryn Sueng Sophia DeRise Sophia Soames Sophie Gonzales S.R. Lane Stephen Chbosky Stephenie Meyer Steven Salvatore Susan Mac Nicol Suzanne Collins Tahereh Mafi Tal Bauer Tamara Girardi Teagan Hunter Terry J. Benton-Walker Tiffany D. Jackson Timothy Janovsky T.J. Klune T.L. Bradford Tobly McSmith Tomasz Jedrowski Tomi Adeyemi Val Wise Veronica Rossi Veronica Roth V.E. Schwab Victor Dixen Victoria Aveyard V.L. Stuart Wesley Chu Xan Van Rooyen Yamile Saied Méndez