Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Books I've Loved: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

I loved this book.  You could feel the authenticity and experience dripping from every word.

A year after 9/11 isn't a great time to wear hijab in an American school, but Shirin chooses to.  Her reasons are never delved into, but it's clear that it's her choice, not something imposed on her by her family.  Having moved many times during her school career, Shirin is used to being the new kid and being stared at, called names and even physically harmed.  She doesn't like it, but has figured out how to deal with it.

She cuts herself off from everyone, her invisible walls impenetrable.  The only person allowed in is her older brother who introduces her to break dancing, something she discovers a knack for.

But then she meets Ocean, and Ocean seems to want to know Shirin.  She doesn't know how to deal with this.  They are from different worlds and she can't see a way them being together in any way, shape or form could ever work.

Yet Ocean doesn't give up and Shirin finds it increasing difficult to keep her protective walls intact under his blue-eyed attention.  Could it be possible that their irreconcilable worlds could actually entwine?

So much of this book was heartbreaking.  I hate that this is the kind of behavior the author, Tahreh Mafi would have experienced growing up - even from adults who should know better.  I hate that people are so inherently cruel to people they perceive as different to them.  But then there's a spark of hope that more people like Ocean might be out there, people who see through the surface differences to the real person underneath.

I would definitely recommend this one, for anyone who enjoys painful love stories and for anyone looking for stories about people who are not just outsiders, but treated like second-class citizens because of it.  Maybe if more people were aware of the effect their words have on others, they wouldn't use those words.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, 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. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she 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 Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.