We enjoyed our first virtual book club with Bards Alley! It was so much fun talking about A Very Large Expanse of Sea with fellow YA readers. So, we’re going to do our review a bit differently this time. Instead of just telling you our thoughts, we’re going to mention a few of our discussion questions and the reactions.
Shirin moves around a lot and it’s not easy. She starts at a new school during her sophomore year and even though it’s a new town, it’s one in the same: predominantly white and upper class.
As a Persian-American Muslim, Shirin feels she stands out. Especially since she wears a hijab. However, her brother doesn’t have that problem. While he’s hot and “exotic” to their new classmates, Shirin is bullied for her differences.
After all, it’s the year after 9/11 and people are taking out their frustrations on Shirin. It doesn’t matter that A.) She was born here; B.) Her parents escaped an oppressive regime, and C.) She’s smarter than most of her class— she isn’t treated well. Until she meets Ocean James (yes that is his name!), the cute boy determined to be her friend and prove that not all people are bad.
Do you think the story was plot-based or character driven?
Everyone agreed that the book was character driven instead of plot-based. Not much happened in terms of action, as the book followed Shirin throughout her daily life at school and home. The writing was stream of consciousness since most of the book took place in Shirin’s head.
What made the setting unique or important? Could the story have taken place anywhere?
The setting is in the United States in a predominantly white, suburban town. However, we think that Mafi purposefully does not reveal the location so that the reader understands that the racism and Xenophobia Shirin faces could happen anywhere in the country.
Did you pick out any themes throughout the book?
Islamophobia was a major theme throughout the book. Shirin has to deal prejudice from both classmates and teachers. Mafi comments on the difficulty of being Muslim post 9/11 in the United States. It’s not always easy, especially people making fun of her hijab and assuming she’s oppressed.
Another theme was judgment. Shirin judged others as well. She thought that other students were automatically mean without getting to know them in order to keep herself closed off. Ocean tried to prove that wrong to her. However, every character in the book judges others based on ethnicity, race and religion. Mafi encourages the readers to not judge a book by its covers.
Finally, another theme we discussed was self-discovery. Shirin and Ocean had a lot to learn about each other and themselves. Shirin is more than just a Persian Muslim who’s good at school. She also loves fashion and break dancing. Ocean is more than the popular basketball player. In fact, he actually can’t stand playing anymore.
How did the characters change throughout the story? How did your opinion of them change?
Shirin’s perspective on humanity changed throughout the story. Originally she believed that her classmates were inherently mean, but once she learned to change her perspective, she came to realize that not everyone in her new school is bad. She learned to give others— including Ocean— a chance to prove her wrong.
Overall, everyone seemed to like Ocean better as the book went on. Though in the beginning he was naive about the realities of Shirin’s life at their school, he grew to be empathetic and genuinely tried to stand with Shirin when she was bullied by her peers for her religion.
How did you feel about the ending? What did you like, what did you not like, and what do you wish had been different?
There was a bit of disagreement over the ending. But, that’s what made book club so fun— seeing the differences in opinions and how people view the same story in multiple ways. We don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but we’d love to hear your (spoiler-free) thoughts on Mafi’s decision to end Shirin and Ocean’s story the way she did.