A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Published by HarperTeen on October 16, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, YA, Romance
“I understood too well what it was like to feel like you were defined by one superficial thing- to feel like you would never excape the box people had put you in”
There have been some books this year that have been great, but there are the ones that are great and important to read. This is one of those.A Very Large Expanse of Sea is raw, eye-opening, and real. It punches you in the gut but you might need that punch in the gut. It tells a story that needs to be told. A narrative that isn’t usually seen in YA books. Or any books, sometimes.
I’ve loved Mafi’s books for years and with each release, I’ve continued to love her writing. AVLEOS has solidified my love for her and the way she writes stories. The majority of what I’ve seen has been, of course, Shatter Me. AVLEOS shows a different side of her writing style, a style I hope to see much, much more.
AVLEOS is a story about a sixteen-year-old girl named Shirin in a post 9/11 world. The year is 2002 and the world doesn’t make it easy for her. She’s Muslim and she’s buried under stereotypes. People are horrible to her and she’s convinced there is no good people out there. She bounces around from school to school since her parents move so often and at her new school she meets someone named Ocean. Did I mention she breakdances?
Mafi wrote AVLEOS with her own personal experiences as inspiration. Even if I hadn’t known that tidbit, I would’ve been able to feel the raw pain and voice that comes out through Shirin. Her voice is biting, cynical, and angry. Rightfully so. Though she’s angry at the world, it’s still a contemporary with romance.
As it’s a standalone and a contemporary, I don’t want to give away too much. I will say, though, that despite the fact I haven’t experienced anything like what Shirin has, I still felt a strong connection to her. She believes the worst in people because of how they’ve treated her, keeps people at arms length because there’s no point to let them in, but still wants all those things deep down anyway. Also like me, she’s oblivious. Through her narration and being inside her head, as she discovered things I realized how oblivious she was. There may have been hints along the way, but how Shirin walks through the world she truly missed them all and didn’t give a damn. I admire Shirin for her strength and courage in the way she handles and views herself. She might have weak moments (who doesn’t though? we’re all human) but she stays true to herself and in her beliefs of who she is and what makes her feel strong.
Ocean James is my other fascination and love of the story. He is the first one that wants to get to know Shirin which isn’t something other people want to do. Watching him navigate getting to know Shirin and learn about her and her background was interesting. I admire him for his tenacity and how he really, truly doesn’t give a damn about what other people think. That and he’s extremely lovable which makes me on the lookout for the real life version of him. Seriously.
The characters in this story are so real, which is one of the things I love most about Mafi’s ability to tell a story. The struggles and trials they go through to develop their character from a to b is authentic. This is a story I definitely see myself re-reading down the road, which is a rarity when I hardly have time to read a new book.
If there’s any book that came out in 2018, like Sabaa Tahir said in her own Goodreads review: make it this one.