Book Reviews

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi 

TW: Islamophobia, Violence

Set in 2002, Shirin is a sixteen year old girl going to highschool in a post 9/11 America. From rude stares to degrading comments and even physical violence – her family is being discriminated against because of their race and religion. Shirin learns to build walls to protect herself and keep her classmates as far away as possible. The one place she can let her walls down is when she is break-dancing. 

But then Shirin meets Ocean James. He seems like the only person who wants to get to know Shirin without any judgement involved. The two come from opposite worlds and his unknowing of her experiences makes her nervous; she’s built her walls so high Shirin doesn’t know if Ocean will be able to get in.


I enjoyed this book and found the story to be quite moving. Shirin has such a strong personality for being so young. I felt this was a remarkable young adult introduction into very difficult topics, but I did still finish this book wanting more. From the description, I was anticipating more of a focus on the devastating discrimination Shirin and her family experienced living in this world post-9/11.

What I find so interesting is that many white people say things like “never forget” and “the Country was so unified after this tragedy” but that is not the reality for many Americans. For several, that day marks the start of horrific and violent Islamophobia that many Americans still cling to today.

This story certainly highlighted elements of that, but the focus was more placed on Shirin’s relationship with Ocean and her break dancing competition.

I wanted it to be more. This book had the potential to tell a really powerful story and I felt it fell flat in some ways. I wish the unnecessary details were left out of the middle and the ending was more developed. The conclusion felt rushed and incomplete. Truly, I did enjoy this book, but I found myself wanting more depth and a more satisfying ending. Ultimately, I didn’t discover my new favorite book but I did check my privilege in the way I remember 9/11 and the following events.

PUBLICATION DETAILS: HarperCollins Publishers; October 16th, 2018; 0062866567; Fiction/Young Adult