Finding a good book is like finding a pearl in an oyster–although rare and sometimes hard to find, once you do find one, it’s a gem. Finding a good book with diverse characters and accurate representation is like… finding a diamond in an oyster. Or an emerald. Or a ruby. Pretty much impossible.
When I read the synopsis for A Very Large Expanse of Sea, I had to hold my breath because it seemed too good to be true. A cute, contemporary romance that centered around a Muslim, hijabi-wearing girl? How was this real life? I told myself that even if the book was poorly written, creativity-lacking fluff, I would still read it from cover to cover due to the representation that it shows to a minority that often finds itself significantly absent in mainstream media. (Seriously. When was the last time you guys read a mainstream novel centering around a Muslim/Hijabi main character? Never, right? If it was recently then PLEASE message me with the title!). However, I am so pleased to say that this book passed even my highest expectations.
“I understood too well what it was like to feel like you were defined by one superficial thing- to feel like you would never excape the box people had put you in”
Mafi’s writing is poignant, real, and honest. She does not hide the struggles that Muslim-American girls face due to blatant racism and discrimination. She does not lie about the obstacles those in interracial and interfaith relationships are forced to overcome. She’s telling a story most likely shaped by the truth of her own experiences. And it’s a story that, in this day and age, is not just necessary, but long overdue.
Shirin is a strong, independent, well-developed character, who is jaded and closed off and beautifully, rightfully angry on the outside, but also full of life and love and personality.
Ocean is a kind, curious creature who isn’t afraid of people because they are different. It was wonderful to read about his interest in Shirin’s culture–even though he could be quite ignorant at first, he made a point to educate himself instead of living in darkness. I wish everyone in America was like Ocean–unfortunately, that’s a reality that we can dream of, but are still working towards achieving.
The obvious romance is the center of the novel, but Mafi does an excellent job of fleshing out both Shirin and Ocean into strong, likeable characters on their own, outside their budding relationship.
I hope this book teaches us all that as humans, we are constantly learning and growing. Here’s to reading many more books like this one.
Five out of five beautiful, diverse stars.