Things were rough for Shirin after the Twin Towers fell in New York City. A year later, when her family has moved yet again, things are still very unsettled. In fact, she thinks nothing will ever change. There will always be the whispers, the stares, the outright hostility, so what is the point in even trying to get to know anyone. They always turn out to be a disappointment.
Shirin and her family are muslim – her parents from Iran – and she chooses to wear a hijab. Navid, her older brother, never seems to have any problem making friends and fitting in. Any adversity she and her brother face however is met with a story from their parents about how horrible they had it and how lucky their children are to be in a place of opportunity. Shirin doesn’t see it that way.
So she finds herself once again, starting at a new school – because her parents are always moving, getting better jobs for a better future (not thinking that moving around makes things harder for their children) and this time it is her sophomore year of high school. Shirin plans to behave like always – ignore the world and hope the world will ignore her. Because when the world isn’t ignoring her – it typically isn’t good.
When her lab partner, a guy named Ocean, starts actually talking with her, she isn’t sure why. Normally boys don’t talk to her at all, but this guy seems to maybe want to. She doesn’t get it. Then her brother forms a break dancing group and decides they should try to make it into the school talent show and Shirin isn’t sure that she can get up on stage and perform in front of the entire school. With Ocean acting weird and her brother driving her crazy it is little wonder she feels like her world is spiraling out of control. Especially when she discovers the reason Ocean is acting strange is because he likes her.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Taheren Mafi is a great look at a person who has walled themselves off to protect themselves from the large and small hurts of the world, only to realize that some of those hurts, aren’t really hurts after all.
Recommended for grades 8 and up.