This book had been on my TBR shelf for quite some time so I was delighted when I saw it available on audiobook through Libby. I finished it in two days.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea transports us back to 2002 in the wake of 9/11 when tensions are high and negative extremist stereotypes of Muslims are rampant. Here, we meet Shirin, a 16 year-old Muslim-American who’s learning how to navigate high school in this new post-9/11 reality. Shirin is just like any other American girl, but those around her can only see her hijab and the prejudices that surround her choice of showing her faith.
I went through a host of emotions while reading this read: Annoyance at the ignorance of people, rage at the hate that people continue to show for things they do not understand, and happiness at the moments of joy and self-discovery as Shirin works through the many obstacles of being a teen.
“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.”
The dynamic between Ocean and Shirin was inspiring and hopeful. Their relationship shows the importance of having someone behind you that accepts you as you are and encourages you to be unashamed in who you are.
Because of that support, Shirin was able to let down some of the walls she’d (rightfully) built up to protect herself and see that she had a lot more support than she thought. She had friends that supported her, loved her, and stood up for her in the face of bigotry and hate. Through sharing her talents, she was able to show her school mates that she was no different than anyone else and that she belonged right where she was.
The greatest message I received in this book is the power of acceptance. It’s so important in our world to recognize that we are going to meet others that do not look, act, or think like us and it’s our responsibility to listen, learn, and accept others as they share their experiences with us. How we treat others matters immensely and the best way to make a difference is to show love to one another.
“If the decision you’ve made has brought you closer to humanity, then you’ve done the right thing.”
This book impactful, important, and a representation of the voices we need to hear more from and read more of.