Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea chronicles a young girl’s journey from the pain of social isolation to the joy of newfound love. Indeed, it is a tale of both pride and prejudice, of the barriers we erect around us and the simple acts of kindness that break them down. This heartwarming story offers readers a healthy dose of wonderful – the perfect antidote to today’s seemingly polarized and often troubled times.
Shirin is a Muslim-American teenager living in post-9/11 America. The devastation of 9/11 gives rise to a new social and political landscape… one that proves to be relentlessly cruel to Shirin and her Muslim family. She and her loved ones are taunted, teased, harassed, and physically assaulted. The constant berating they experience at the hands of strangers becomes a source of such profound anguish that she begins to retreat from the world she knows and loves. Eventually, Shirin finds herself adrift in a sea of prejudice and hatred, moving ever so steadily toward a place the young, gregarious and sometimes feisty teenager never imagined: alone.
Enter Ocean James, the star basketball player and typical boy next door. Adorably dorky yet kind, he is instantly taken by Shirin and her seemingly unusual appearance – especially the hijab she wears to school every day. Increasingly fascinated with Shirin and her life, Ocean slowly tries to ease his way into her world. He talks to her. He questions her. He bothers her.
Or was he just trying to be a friend? “Maybe,” she thinks. Suspicious of his motives, Shirin is reluctant to open her life and, more importantly, her heart to him.
“Ocean was all the traditionally pleasant things a girl might like about a guy, which made his friendliness dangerous to me… He dressed nicely. He smelled pleasant. He was very polite. But he and I seemed to come from worlds so diametrically opposed that I knew better than to allow his friendship in my life.”
But would that change? Would Shirin eventually give in to her feelings of longing for the very companionship she secretly craves?