‘A Very Large Expanse of Sea’ – Tahereh Mafi

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11, and Shirin has just started at yet another new high school. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for 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.

Shirin 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 her. It terrifies her -they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds – and Shirin has had her guard up against the world for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

A book that makes you laugh, cry, rail against prejudice and many other emotions besides.

Shirin is used to moving around. She does her best not to be noticed, but as a Muslim teenager who wears the hijab she’s used to being seen and judged. Given that this novel is set not long after the 09/11 attacks, it’s inevitable that we’ll be forced to confront some pretty unpleasant behaviour and attitudes.

While the novel focuses on Shirin’s religion and how people treat her because of their assumptions about her, it is predominantly a love story.

Accustomed to being ignored or asked insulting questions, Shirin is bemused when her lab partner Ocean takes an interest in her. The pair of them together were awkward at times, but I was rooting for them from the off. Even more so when Shirin realises the one boy she gets a crush on is the high school basketball golden boy, and their relationship will bring all sorts of issues.

I think it’s safe to say this is a book I would highly recommend, and would be surprised if someone didn’t end up captivated by it. I’m particularly keen to see how those who enjoyed ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas find it.