A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons breakdancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down. [Taken from the publisher’s blurb.]

I really enjoyed this YA contemporary about a Muslim high school student who is the victim of constant microaggressions. 

The main character, Shirin, is the best part of this book for me. She is such a complex and fantastic character. So used to being disappointed, she has given up on her fellow human beings, and even stops looking at the people around her, out of fear. But she’s so smart, beautiful, and badass that she intimidates everyone. So the irony of the shell she’s built up around herself is that she’s put it up for her own protection, but everyone else thinks they need protection from her. Continue reading

Review—An Acquaintance by Saba Syed

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When Sarah begins her senior year of high school, Jason is just the cute new soccer captain. But as they spend more and more time together, Sarah feels increasingly conflicted about the nature of their relationship. She still insists, however, that he is just “an acquaintance.”

I read through this compelling story in a single day. I couldn’t put it down until I found out what would happen to the characters, and when I finally did, I kept thinking about the complex themes Saba Syed explores through the life of a teenage girl.   Continue reading

Review—Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Why did I read a YA romance novel? Oh yeah, because I thought it was something else.

Love, Hate & Other Filters follows seventeen-year-old Maya. She comes from an Indian Muslim background and is at odds with her parents. They want her to go to school close to home, become a lawyer, and make a suitable match. She wants to go to NYU, study film, and chase after her high school non-Indian crush.

I am glad this book exists because it represents one of the many kinds of Muslims in the US. Maya’s family are a cultural kind of Muslim where they are VERY Indian and also Muslim. Unfortunately, the representation here has serious issues with it. One thing is that her parents’ portrayal could not have been any more stereotypical. There was zero nuance to it. (The one part of the parents’ portrayal that rang true to me was the ending.) Also, Maya doesn’t seem to be struggling with her Indian-ness or her Muslim-ness; she’s struggling with her parent’s Indian-ness and Muslim-ness. And while Maya expresses a respect for her parent’s culture, she doesn’t once grapple with her intentions as a Muslim. The fact that she’s Muslim never plays into a single one of motivations. In that sense, I found the way this novel was promoted frustrating. Maya’s crisis with her parents is one part of the story. Continue reading