Rating: 4.5 stars
“I wondered, for the very first time, if maybe I was doing this whole thing wrong. If maybe I’d allowed myself to be blinded by my own anger to the exclusion of all else. If maybe, just maybe, I’d been so determined not to be stereotyped that I’d begun to stereotype everyone around me.”
(I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest opinion)
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is an own voices YA contemporary romance about a Muslim-American teen named Shirin, who struggles with hate and racism in a time post 9/11 terrorist attacks. She’s tired of her family always moving around – making friends is already hard as it is -, but despite all the anger and frustration, she eventually finds some confort in break dancing.
A little context, I read Shatter Me by this author last year and I wasn’t a fan. The plot and worldbuilding were lacking, the romance was insta-lovey and I’m not into dystopia anyways, but I still gave the series another chance. It turns out that I enjoyed the sequels more and I think Tahereh Mafi‘s writing is very distinct. Shatter Me was clearly a character driven series, and I think these people’s development was what held my attention. Due to that, I felt like Tahereh is the kind of author that would probably do a lot better with contemporary books. In a way, I think I was right.
I did receive a review copy prior to the release, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it back then. But I’m glad I finally got to this book because despite my uncertain expectations, I really enjoyed this. So much that I read it in one day and I rarely do that.
“If the decision you’ve made has brought you closer to humanity, then you’ve done the right thing.”
A Very Large Expanse of Sea made me cry. Do you have any idea the last time a book legit made me cry? No? Well, me neither. I guess I felt triggered because this book touches on a topic that is very sensitive to me nowadays – gratuitous hate. We just had a very devisive election in my country and it was ugly. The situation isn’t pretty worldwide, to be honest, and I’ve been feeling very disappointed at humanity and at the poor way we treat each other. I felt like Tahereh just dumped a whole bag of salt on my wound, so when the book ended I simply burst into tears. Then I laughed histerically because I didn’t expect to be crying. Then I kept on crying because I was triggered whenever I thought about the book. It was a mess, y’all should’ve seen it
but NOT REALLY.
As expected from my previous experience with Tahereh Mafi‘s work, the characters were the strength here. Shirin was a very angry teen, and she would be frequently rude, defensive and shut down, but as the story unfolds and you get to see how people treat her, you’re like “well I guess I can’t really blame her”. But I feel like she grows and learns a lot, especially about giving people a chance to prove that not everyone is a jerk, and how to handle her own fear.
“I thought women were gorgeous no matter what they wore, and I didn’t think they owed anyone an explanation for their sartorial choices. Different women felt comfortable in different outfits.”
And then there is Ocean. Oh Ocean. That’s such a silly name, but he is such a nice guy that I forgive it. Actually I feel like he changed something in me. Bad boys are one of the ultimate fetishes in fiction, let’s be real. Everyone and their mother loves them. But Ocean made me question why we praise them so much. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty as charged, but I’m starting to think that legit nice guys should get more appreciation from us. I admit he is a bit too nice at times, but honestly, Shirin really needed more decent human beings in her life, so I won’t complain.
I did like the secondary characters as well – Shirin‘s parents, her brother, his friends (the rest was mostly shitty people).
This book focuses more on the romance, it’s true, and said romance might feel a bit insta-lovey at times, but I was still engaged somehow. I don’t know what happened exactly, at first I was like okay about it, but as the book progressed I ended up really rooting for them. Maybe I just didn’t was the hate to win, you know? The break dancing part was cool, but like I said, the focus is really the romance, so don’t expect too much page time for it.
I know this was a very personal story for Tahereh Mafi and I’m glad I was able to connect with it, even if I’ve never been through any of those struggles myself. I don’t usually rate contemporary (or her other books) this high, but it gave me feels and made me cry, so how could I not? I like Tahereh‘s writing and I’m very interested in reading her middle-grade novels, Furthermore and Whichwood, to see how she deals with worldbuiding there, since character work seems to be her strength.
So guys, have you read this or any of Tahereh Mafi’s books? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments. 😊