There’s a lot of things I loved about A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi.
I loved that Shirin was allowed to be a teenager; to feel anger and shame and confusion and determination and make mistakes. Shirin felt real to me, like someone I knew. In Shirin I saw myself. In her determination of not letting her identity be dictated by the bigots around her, I saw myself. In her resilience, I saw mine.
I cannot speak on the Muslim representation, nor can I speak on the Persian representation in AVLEOS; what I can speak on is the struggle of not only being a girl, but also being a marginalized girl in a world that favours/praises fair complexions, European standards of beauty, and conformity to what is acceptable to the ignorant majority.
I struggled a lot with my skin colour as a kid, living first in a country that promoted skin bleaching creams (India), and then in one where I was the only brown kid in my class, the only one with an accent (Canada), and though the experiences differed between Shirin and I in what explicitly happened to us, I felt her emotions in my bones.
I felt the frustration that bubbled up in her when asked ignorant questions. I felt the confusion that seized her when a bigoted stranger made her their target. I felt the anger at the world for marginalizing her. I felt her stubbornness to not let the world around her pressure her into conforming to its status quo. I felt that happiness of finally finding someone who genuinely wanted to be your friend, instead of someone who wanted to use you to fill their quota of diversity in their fried group. I felt her giddiness at trying something new and nerve-wracking. It was almost like I was reading a book about the things I had felt for so long.
I also adored Shirin’s relationships with her parents, her brother, and the people she grew close with at her school. It was absolutely wonderful reading multidimensional familial relationships.
Watching Shirin develop relationships with her friends, and take her time as she stepped out of her comfort zone to form other relationships instead of be forced into them within, like, a page, was extremely important for me when I was reading this, and definitely made this book even better for me because it was exactly how all my relationships with friends and significant others has developed. I know this is probably more of a personal thing for me that made the book resonate with me even more.
There’s so much I want to say about this book, all of it non-spoilery, but if you’re going to read one book this month, read A Very Large Expanse of Sea.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a book that stays with you months, even years after you read it. Reading it was one of those experiences that I don’t think I will ever forget.