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 — Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Nadia Akbar’s debut novel, set in Pakistan, narrates the stories of the youth, as they grow up in a society ripe with corruption, volatile politics and gender bias. Nida and Bugsy are two such teenagers whose lives get entangled when they meet at a party. After her brother’s death, Nida has grown estranged from her family and chooses to spend her days smoking one joint after another. Bugsy is an RJ trying to harmonize rock music into the music scene in Lahore, a place that is still clinging to the tunes from years gone by.


Other than its hypnotic cover, the title and the premise of Goodbye Freddie Mercury were what drew me to the book. As I kept reading, I began to realize that there wasn’t a specific plot governing the storytelling. There was no discernible start, mid and end to the narrative; no conflict or climax driving the novel forward. Instead, it flowed with the ease of a story gradually unraveling at the touch of a reader. The author’s writing style is very poised and at the same time, makes frequent use of Hindi and Punjabi slang; thus catering to the readers of our subcontinent. It is also observant in its descriptions and fills in necessary details of the surroundings during a scene.

On the surface, this is a typical youth drama fiction. There’s a whole lot of drug and alcohol use, sexual content, petty rivalry, stereotypical characters. The extent to which the characters in this book are shown to be inebriated is quite alarming, considering the fact that they are barely young adults. Nida is your quintessential new girl, who quickly gets assimilated into this group of friends when she starts dating Omer, the supposed leader of the pack. The impression I got from her character depiction is that she is often not mindful of her actions, she doesn’t really stop to think what’s good for her and make choices based on sound judgement. Omer is a rather distasteful spoilt character, objectifying others and paying no heed to consequences. I had placed all of my faith on Bugsy to be somewhat more mature than the others. He is a lot more approachable and considerate.

All throughout, I was wondering how the title connects to the novel. Towards the end, you begin to understand the deeper meaning and I was super impressed. I wished there weren’t as many stereotypes in the book. On the whole, I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to everyone solely on the basis of how different the style is. It is more realistic and raw than you’d expect it to be.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A novel about teenagers from the upper echelons of Lahori society, where insobriety and abuse of power are the norm of the day.

Thank you Penguin India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. 

Book Review — One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

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Five students with distinct identities are seemingly tricked into detention, but what comes after that is no joke. One of them is dead and the four who walk out aren’t exactly blameless. They all have an ax to grind with the dead boy, Simon. You see, he was to set in motion a series of events that would threaten to ruin their lives. But now, they’re doomed to a fate of harsh judgment, discrimination and possible social isolation. While their world is being ripped apart by the police and media, they find solace in unexpected ways. The truth about Simon’s death is a lot closer than they think.

The premise of this book is so fantastic that I knew I’d love it. You couldn’t possibly go wrong with a mystery like that. But unfortunately, it all fell flat after the beginning. The initial couple of chapters are interesting because we are slowly submerged into their world, trying to understand the characters and the storyline. After that I felt like the story wasn’t progressing AT ALL. Almost three forth of the novel comprises of the students being questioned time and again by detectives, with no leads whatsoever. And that was frustrating. The only saving grace in 66% of the novel was Bronwyn and Nate’s chemistry. That being said, the rest 34% of the novel was as mind blowing as I’d hoped the whole novel to be. It was fast paced, the characters were actively contributing to the plot, the mystery was getting solved, additional themes were being established.

The author’s writing style is great, because it builds the right kind of atmosphere, encouraging you to try to put the pieces together. I just wished that a majority of the novel had as much depth. Because the synopsis is evidence to how much potential this novel had. It resembles Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game to a great extent and I loved that quality! The novel follows some tropes like that of the bad boy lead, geeky girl protagonist and high school hierarchy. While it addresses important issues like that of peer pressure, bullying, depression etc, it doesn’t add much value in terms of how to tackle those concerns. On the other hand, it’s treatment of gay sexuality is commendable. I liked how the climax played out and little else. I’m one of those few people who didn’t really love the book.

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars.