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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA
by Tahereh Mafi
(Harper Collins; $18.99, Ages 13+)

 

cover art from A Very Large Expanse of Sea

 

 

National Book Award Longlist
Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

 

In Tahereh Mafi’s riveting YA novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl living in post 9/11 America, has moved from town to town her whole life. She is constantly berated with judgmental stares and back hand comments from her peers at school no matter what school she attends. When she moves to yet another school, she finally feels able to channel her frustrations through breakdancing, a club her brother, Navid, formed.

Unlike Shirin, Navid tends to become popular in whatever school they go to. Shirin believes the reason she is an outcast is because of her decision to wear a hijab. The siblings bond over their love of break dancing as a way to express themselves. Shirin was impressed that Navid created the club as they had both talked about when they were younger. For Shirin, joining the club allowed her to have a support team during her period of debating whether or not to have a relationship with a boy named Ocean James.

Usually Shirin keeps her head down and never tries to make friends, that is until she meets her lab partner, Ocean.. Shirin does not want to look at people because she knows everyone is looking at her. She believes that if she looks back at them it is an invitation for them to ask her questions which will either be dumb or offensive. On top of that, because she is always moving, she feels that it is hard to form lasting relationships anyway. In the past, she claims she would have friends but would lose contact with them over time, and it was emotionally draining for her to make and lose friends. Ocean feels drawn to Shirin and hopes to start a romantic relationship with her. He finds her different and beautiful. But she is apprehensive that she will draw attention to him, especially because she’s Muslim. “But the harder I fell for him, the more I wanted to protect him.” Will Shirin ignore Ocean’s advances in order to protect him or will she give in to his pursuit?

Mafi perfectly conveys the emotions and complicated personality of Shirin through her writing. As a Muslim Iranian-American herself, she can identify with Shirin’s struggles and authenticate the experiences within the story. This novel deals with the harsh realities of discrimination and racism towards Muslims, heightened to scary proportions following 9/11 yet still present today. The relevance, detailed descriptions of events, and Shirin’s choices certainly enticed me to continue reading. It’s no surprise this gripping story won numerous accolades and I can easily add mine to the long list.

Click here for a reading guide.

  • Reviewed by Rachel Kaufman


Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.

We Can All Drink From The Same Fountain

The title, White Water (16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 5 – 8) brings rafting to mind, but this book has nothing to do with that kind of white water. Based upon a true childhood experience, this story is about an African American boy who discovers the deep pain of discrimination and segregation in 1962, during the time of Jim Crow Laws. When he takes a drink out of a “colored” fountain, he is disgusted with the gritty tasting water. He realizes that the white boy next to him, who is drinking out of the “white” fountain, is taking a long drink and seems to be enjoying his water. The black boy becomes obsessed with the notion that “white” water is cleaner and better tasting than “colored” water. So later he sneaks back to town to try to drink from the white fountain to confirm his suspicions.  What he discovers in the process is life changing.

This special book is based upon the real childhood experiences of author Michael S. Bandy. The story is co-authored with Eric Stein and is beautifully illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Both captivating and truly unique in its approach, this story is also educational and an important one to share. It is the sort of book that every child in America should read. The message is not just about discrimination; it is also about how our lives are limited only by the way we think.

On the back of the book jacket is a quote by Bill Cosby that says, “White Water is a wonderful way to give children an American history lesson proving that racism is a waste of time.” I could not have said it better.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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