A Very Large Expanse of Sea — Tahereh Mafi

October 22, 2018


TITLE: A Very Large Expanse of Sea
AUTHOR: Tahereh Mafi
RELEASED: October 16th, 2018; Harper Teen
GENRE: Contemporary

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.


If you know my reading tastes much, you’ll already know that I almost never pick up a contemporary novel unless it involves one of three things: diverse rep, a heartbreaking learning experience (for the reader or the characters), or a romance so sweet and lovable that I can’t help but get sucked in. It’s really rare that I find a book that has all three of those traits, yet here we are.

I didn’t understand how anyone could be so violently angry with me for something I hadn’t done, so much so that they’d feel justified in assaulting me in broad daylight as I walked down the street. I didn’t want to understand it. But there it was.


This is my first Tahereh Mafi read (unless you count the few chapters of Shatter Me I’ve read so far), and I could not put it down. I sat down late one night with the intentions of reading a couple of chapters before bed, and the next thing I knew, it was 4am and I had just finished it and could not stop crying from this mixture of sadness and grief and happiness and love and just… everything. Tahereh Mafi gave me literally every possible emotion I could imagine while reading this gorgeous story.

I worried that if I spoke or screamed my anger would grip both sides of my open mouth and rip me in half. So I said nothing.

First and foremost, it’s a story inspired by Tahereh Mafi’s own high school life:  our protagonist Shirin is a high schooler in the wake of 9/11, shortly after the event occurred, which isn’t an easy place to be when you’re a Muslim girl, the daughter of Persian immigrants who fought and worked their way to the US from Iran, and a hijabi. On top of all of that, her parents move her and her brother Navid constantly, and where the story picks up, Shirin is yet again the new girl whose classmates won’t look past her scarf and skin color long enough to learn more about her: like the music she loves, or the immense value she places on her family and their Persian cooking, or her secret affinity for break dancing.

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.

Obviously, as a white woman from the US, with no immigration in my recent ancestors and no religious affiliations, I can’t begin to speak for the representation in this book; however, Tahereh explains in her author’s note that every bit of it is own-voice (even the break dancing!), and many of my Muslim friends have been raving about this book already. (If you have an own-voice review for this book, please let me know and I’ll boost your review! ♥) What I can say, though, is that Shirin is such an incredible character and I loved the representation. I learned so much, but more than that, I was given just a tiny little glimpse into what it must be like to be a Muslim in a xenophobic, Islamophobic world, and it broke my heart a million times over.

“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?”

There’s also a running theme of Shirin discussing not only how racism affects her in obvious ways, such as the assailants who attacked her right after 9/11, but also in microaggressions and people being careless despite thinking they had good intentions. It’s so easy to understand why Shirin walks around with walls of thick stone surrounding her, and why it’s so hard for her to let people in—because even the people that seem “good” usually end up hurting her, whether it’s through ignorance or malevolence.

My parents had made sure to make an entirely separate, six-course meal for this friend of mine who’d never tried Persian food before, and they’d sat there and stared at him as he ate, and every time he said he liked what he’d eaten they would look up at me and beam, proud as peacocks, finding in Ocean further proof that Persian people had invented only the best things, including the best food.

I also can safely say that the storytelling itself is among the best of any YA contemporaries I’ve ever read. In between the anger and hurt Shirin lives in, she’s funny, clever, and just an all-around enjoyable narrator. Her family is so lovable (her brother and parents made me smile constantly), the descriptions of food had my mouth watering all the time, and most of all, the romance is one of the sweetest, purest, most adorable contemporary ships I’ve ever seen in my life.

But I knew Ocean and I were thinking the same thing. I could feel it in the subtle shifts of his body. I heard it in his sudden, slow inhalations. In the tightness in his breath when he leaned in and whispered, “Where the hell did you come from?”

I literally highlighted page upon page of Shirin and Ocean’s interactions, no shame. I laughed, I blushed, I cried so many times over how sweet they are together. Ocean is a rare YA love interest who can ride the fine line between being incredibly sweet and eloquent, without ever seeming overly scripted or unrealistic. Shirin and Ocean are the kind of couple that makes us believe in the endless weight of young love, whether we’re in our teens or long past them.

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

I honestly feel like I can’t possibly gush enough about A Very Large Expanse of Sea. It is one of my favorite reads of the year so far, and I know it’s the type of story I’ll go back to over and over again because it won’t get old. Tahereh Mafi has earned me as a lifetime fan with this story, I have no doubt, and after reading this, I can’t wait to dive back into the Shatter Me world and then read everything else she ever writes, too.

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to HarperTeen for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!




More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

    1. Oh my gosh this is such a fantastic review!! I’ve heard many great things about this book already, but this review has totally convinced me to get a copy of this book. I’m so glad you loved it so much! I love that it has diverse rep, a heartbreaking learning experience, and an adorable romance!! ?

    1. This is a wonderful review, Destiny! I am so happy to hear you enjoyed this book so much – it sounds equally amazing and heartbreaking and I am looking forward to reading it 🙂

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