The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The 2024 Art Show Poster
The Diverse Artistry of Glenbard
Maggie Falkenberg, School News Writer • February 8, 2024

This year, Glenbard South took its turn hosting the annual District 87 Art Show. Students walked past a multitude of different colors, styles and scenes in the commons hallway,...

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Searching for Humanity in “A Very Large Expanse of Sea”

“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” was published on October 16, 2018. (Source: Goodreads)
“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” was published on October 16, 2018. (Source: Goodreads)

I have been in a reading slump for over a year now, and I have tried everything to get out of it. I made a Goodreads account, thinking that seeing my high-achieving, high IQ friends finishing a book per week would motivate me to do the same. In actuality, it only sent me further into my shameful, mind-numbing spiral of chronic onlineness. I have explored every genre imaginable, and still found my appetite unsatiated. It seems fitting that, after all of this, I returned home to my young adult roots.”A Very Large Expanse of Sea” was revolutionary in many ways, but I first have to thank this novel for saving me from an embarrassing Goodreads 2024 Year in Books quota-related demise.

Tahereh Mafi brings this contemporary story to life with insightful social commentary, her vivid tone and a romance for the ages. Published in 2018, between some of the last novels in Mafi’s “Shatter Me” series, “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” follows sixteen-year-old Shirin on her path to vulnerability and belonging as a Muslim girl during the tumultuous aftermath of 9/11. Constantly uprooted as a result of her parents’ insatiable ambition, Shirin has learned better than to pay much attention to her ever-changing surroundings. Instead, she does her best to tune out the world and its hatred with music, sometimes blaring from the boom box she and her brother use to hone their break-dancing skills. When Shirin’s family lands in yet another nondescript small town, she is determined to keep to herself. 

Ocean James, however, is just as determined in his efforts to befriend her. Renowned golden boy and basketball star, Ocean is instantly captivated by Shirin’s quiet mystery. Their connection sparks a mutual fascination, but Shirin knows that it cannot last. As the student body sensationalizes and condemns their supposedly unnatural bond, Shirin is only reminded of why she put her defenses up in the first place. Fighting for each other soon means opposing the world as they know it, divided by fear and propaganda. 

This novel is, as a whole, a study of the deepest intricacies of human emotion. Mafi uses Shirin’s experiences with Islamophobia and racism as scalpels to dissect the mentality that drives prejudiced behavior. Although the narration never strays from Shirin’s perspective, Mafi still finds opportunities to intellectualize the fright that motivates most of the hateful acts Shirin encounters. I admire her dedication to not only bringing attention to these issues, but also to dismantling them from the source.

Besides a questionable rush in the last few chapters, the story moves comfortably along. Further assisting it in pacing and style is Mafi’s knack for figurative language. In technique, some of her strongest chapters read similarly to Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Clap When You Land.” Mafi’s masterpiece refuses to be a casual pastime, and demands the reader’s full attention throughout. 

This read remains crucial to this day, with Islamaphobic hate crimes on the rise, very likely stirred up by Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians. Just recently, on January 25, a seventh grade girl wearing a hijab was assaulted by her peer at Glenside Middle School, put into a headlock and slammed into a row of lockers. As Shirin confronts the bigotry of those around her, I was reminded of today’s spike in Islamaphobic violence. These parallels suggest a disgusting but undeniable truth surrounding the cyclic nature of hatred and discrimination: if this injustice goes unchecked now, it will only be repeated later on. As misinformation continues to circulate surrounding both the occupation itself and the backlash many Muslims are facing as a result, it is increasingly important that we all strive to amplify marginalized voices. This novel, a radical lesson in empathy, is the perfect place to start.

“A Very Large Expanse of Sea” is, all at once, a story of defied expectations as well as a welcome subversion of the young adult genre. It is heartwarming to see a young Muslim woman of color as the leading lady in her own romance, as characters like Shirin are too often cast aside. Her voice is full of heart, and this novel full of humanity: unapologetic and hopeful for a future in which her own centrality is not this much of a feat.

 

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About the Contributor
Haley Wong, Editor in Chief
My name is Haley Wong and I am one of the Editors in Chief this year! When I’m not in the trenches of my junior year coursework, I love to read, write, make way too many Spotify playlists and spend endless hours on Pinterest.

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