A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi


Narratives on religion and the implications of shifting blame have been written time and time again. But what is extraordinary about Tahereh Mafi’s brainchild is the brandishing of a character, a 16 year old American girl of Iranian descent, whose integrity is questioned simply because she happened to exist in a time rife with terrorism and extremism. Before 9/11, Shirin led a relatively more peaceful life. But ever since the heinous incident set the world against those of Islamic faith, she too has been marked as the harbinger of all evil. She can’t set foot in public without having to hear racist slurs thrown her way, and for what? Choosing to display her religious inclination without fear?

Told from the point of view of a person of color, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is more than a YA romance. In all its honesty, it brings to us the extremely fickle nature of high school hierarchies. Even the hypocrisies that underlie societal behavior towards men and women of similar backgrounds is seen in the novel. It is apparent in the way Shirin and her brother, Navid are treated. While she is constantly battling remarks like, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”, he receives no such flak for being a Muslim. That begets the question, are symbols of diversity what propel people into deepening cultural barriers. Simply because Shirin chooses to wear her hijab and be empowered by it, she seems to remind everyone of her “otherness”. Moreover, the interactions, that Tahereh Mafi puts to paper in this book, are appalling enough to make you wonder if people are so blinded by fear as to fuel a fascist society.

Some of the things I really appreciated about this book is the inclusion of Persian words and a passing mention to a learning disability. You don’t really find that a lot in books. I was really pleased to read about a family that hadn’t allowed modernization to scrape away at their roots and traditions. The author’s writing style is crisp and straight forward. Shirin’s voice appears to be blunt at first, but her increased attachment to Ocean thaws her resolve and by the end of the book, her personality changes a bit.

One of my biggest pet peeves with regards to stories is having a character make sacrifices on the behalf of another (for the betterment of another) and I was quite afraid that was going to happen in the book. While Ocean is an incredibly supportive and open-minded character, it was Shirin’s story that appealed to me more; her struggles and her opinions. All in all, I would definitely recommend reading this book for the sake of the themes it juggles with, not necessarily for the love story aspect of it.

★★★★

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Book Review — Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson is overshadowed by his friend Tiny Cooper. The second Will Grayson is pining over Issac, a boy whose virtual presence is a blissful respite. Then Tiny Cooper goes and makes a play about a certain Phil Rayson which inevitably upsets Will. Simultaneously, a plan to meet Issac goes horribly wrong and upsets the other Will. Both Will Graysons, existing in a space contrary to one another, are distraught. Somehow, they meet each other and from there, it’s only an uphill climb.

This being my first John Green book was an absolute delight. The writing is hearty and while depicting very realistic people with genuine struggles, makes you fall in love with the story. David Levithan’s chapters were more blunt and unrestrained, in the sense that it portrayed the second Will Grayson as being stark, a little hard hearted. The chapters altered between both Will Graysons’ perspectives and was a welcome change of thoughts. While the theme of homosexuality is explored largely, we also come to terms with concepts like independence, unconditional friendship and irrevocable mistakes. Even though Will gets mad at Tiny numerous times, their friendship is far removed from trivial fights. In that, Will not only commends Tiny’s confidence and kind heart, but is also able to get past his annoyance at Tiny eventually. Tiny Cooper, though associated to both the main characters, shines through like a protagonist. His rapidly changing love life does not deter him in the least bit and when the time comes, does not prevent him from making a more heartfelt commitment. Both the Will Graysons are able to grow exponentially due to Tiny’s interference in their lives. The novel doesn’t speak much about their respective families and I guess its alright, because they all come together like one big family. The play that Tiny takes charge of ends on a brilliant note and is representative of the wonder that Tiny is. Will Grayson and Maura’s friendship is typical in a lot of ways and it was sort of predictable. I flew through this book and enjoyed every bit of it. I just wish the ending had been a little more elaborate and less ambiguous. But I definitely recommend this to all contemporary lovers out there. A fun, well packaged story.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Twin sisters – Cather and Wren – have always stood by each other, whether it was their passion for the Simon Snow book series or coping with their family drama. But when they move to college, the sisters’ opposite personalities drive a wedge between them. Surprisingly, Cath who is not used to forming friendships easily, gets accustomed to her roommate Reagan fairly well. On the other hand, Wren’s new friendships begin to take up all of her spare time. Cath channels her loneliness and feelings of betrayal onto the fan-fiction that the sisters had been writing together. She gives Simon the reality that couldn’t be hers. Somehow, writing becomes her door to the outside world. She joins fiction writing class with an ambition to write to her heart’s content; she becomes writing buddies with a boy from her class and gradually grows close to her roommates boyfriend – all this while taking supreme control over the fanfic and attracting thousands of fans for her own book. What does it mean to be a fangirl? This novel throws light on exactly that. That and the drama which ensues in Cath’s life.

A friend told me that I had to read this before reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell and that is what pushed me to open the book which had been sitting on my shelf for months. Fangirl has been written so realistically, you can as well imagine being the protagonist. Rowell’s writing style is extremely agreeable and easygoing. She makes you feel like you know all the characters personally and weaves most of them to be very endearing. Initially, I thought that Cath had Agoraphobia (a fear of venturing out into situations and places with large crowds from which escape may not be easily possible) but we learn later that it is nothing major. She displays traits of low self esteem and introversion. Her preoccupation with a fictional world results in her withdrawal from social settings. But she blossoms into a more confident person after meeting Reagan, Nick and Levi. Whether good/bad, her experiences with these people help her get out of the shell she had made for herself. Wren’s detachment from Cath and the fan-fiction they were writing is inevitable because of the nature she has. She is a person who lives in the moment, at parties and gatherings than through fiction. Levi, Reagan’s boyfriend, is shown to be an optimist. But I found his character to be a little superficial. Cath herself repeatedly emphasizes the fact that he is always smiling, even when facing goons at a party. That sort of dilutes the essence of happiness for me. How can someone be smiling all the time? Their mother left them at an early age. And so they have been living with their father. The bond they share with him is a friendly and affectionate one.

The storyline is really good, nothing too extravagant but very grounded. We witness how the sisters deal with different issues in varying ways. Moreover we learn how fans create a totally different world by situating the objects of their praise at an apex and then producing merchandise, alternate endings, costumes and fan clubs. What I didn’t like much about the book were the snippets of Simon Snow stories that were included at the end of each chapter. While I absolutely love epistolary novels, I didn’t like reading Simon Snow because I didn’t know the whole story. So I couldn’t wrap my mind around why the tidbits had been incorporated. That being said, I really enjoyed Fangirl and I look forward to reading Carry On. It is definitely a feel-good book and I recommend it to everyone.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

– Meera

Tammy Ruggles on Social Issues

Hey you guys,

This is a spotlight feature on an author, Tammy Ruggles, who has written quite a few short stories about prevalent issues like bullying, suicide, abuse etc. I, personally haven’t read any of the short stories, but they seem to be very relatable to many especially incorporating magic realism in one of the books, I Ate The Bully, that features a boy who is brought back from the dead and has the urge to eat people around him (synopsis).

Here’s a link to a bunch of stories she’s written – YA Short Stories. Spare a few minutes and check it out? These short stories are available on Kindle.

Have a Good Day!

– Meera

 

 

The Cheesy Korean Drama Experience

You know how sometimes you like a certain aspect of a movie or tv show or book and you go looking for it in other such movies and books? Sort of like how I fell in love with Twilight and went on binge reading the entire series of The Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead and The Vampire Diaries by L J Smith. Well there are some things that get a tad bit too boring after the second try. Today I’m going to write about some lame (don’t hit me!) Korean Dramas that hopefully I would be saving you the trouble of watching.

Firstly Playful Kiss. I mean as far as translations go its absurd but to have a word literally translated into the above mentioned phrase just makes me want to shudder. I was apprehensive – a level 100 on the “things I shouldn’t broach” – and yet because of Kim Hyun Joong I braved myself and began to watch. Now high school drama and puppy love is not lost on me. I get it, its a phase. But to have 20 something year olds acting childish and immature?  Nope, not working for me.  It just makes the whole drama all the more spoof-like. The concept of having a bad boy who is popular and doesn’t even blink an eye at his so called “fan following” in school has been used so much – it must be discarded ASAP!

I do wish I could have picked some better drama for the 16 hours that I spent on this one. I didn’t like the female protagonist’s acting one bit. The ending was a little rushed. For today’s youth, the character of Oh Ha Ni is extremely weak and soppy. She is portrayed as being so desperate for the guy’s attention and even after being insulted she persists. Which shows something about her strong resolve and sense of loyalty but I felt her strengths were misplaced and focused too much on the guy.

Then there is Heartstrings. Oh sweet Lord! Why? Unfortunately apart from the music, there wasn’t much I liked about Heartstrings. Maybe if I were a 14 year old I would have bought the plot but in real life, arrogant jerks don’t wake up the next day in love with the docile classmate. Lee Shin’s heartache upon losing his father was one of the other minor things that I could empathize with. Gyu Won was a better female character compared to many others, in the sense that she stood up for what she wanted but sadly, Park Shin Hye didn’t suit well for the role. I really liked her performance in The Heirs and so was looking forward to her in this drama. The sacrificial nature of Gyu Won and Lee Shin’s relationship could have been avoided.  In terms of adding conflict it lacked conviction. Plus in many of these dramas that involve a cold hearted lead, his sidekicks are rarely given much lines. They just tag along and contribute a word or two. I guess that’s something I’d like the script writers to work on.  Why add so many characters if they don’t serve a fruitful purpose? Its once again a very sappy kind of high school romance based drama that you could watch if you are into the genre. But I’d say download these OSTs and pick something else worthwhile.

Ratings – 2.5 stars on 5 [for both]

Mia