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 break-dancing 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.
🔆 My thoughts about this book are all over the place. Maybe because only in a span of three hundred and ten pages it managed to cover a wide range of issues of Islamophobia and racism or maybe because it did so while also weaving a beautiful love story out of it. I think we all can agree that school is tough in general. Now imagine being a 16 year old Muslim girl living in America, an year after the 9/11 attacks, where antipathy towards Islam is only ever growing. The plot follows Shirin, who is a victim of such hate and vitriolic comments, is constantly bullied for wearing her hijab and is even openly attacked on the streets. The kids at the school are mean to her and so she prefers to stay by her own, finding solace in music.
🔆 What broke my heart was knowing that some of the story is drawn out by the personal experience of Tahereh Mafi herself. Although I’m not sure to what extent is the story real but it enrages me to think a person would actually ask a person wearing a hijab if they have bombs hidden underneath them. It horrifies me to read about the humiliation and harassment that people of color often have to deal with because of bigots and generally unaware people. There’s also considerate discussion about identity, beauty and hijab in this book which is so important.
“I didn’t believe it was possible to hide a woman’s beauty. I thought women were gorgeous no matter what they wore, and I didn’t think they owed anyone an explanation for their sartorial choices. Different women felt comfortable in different outfits.
They were all beautiful.”
🔆 Aside from the overall plot, I absolutely loved the characters and the relationships built in this book. I absolutely loved Shirin, she was a strong and fierce female character, although rude and aggressive at times (most of the times) , I think when it seems like the whole world is against you, It is quite difficult being sugar to people. Although her struggles were foreign to me, I could grip why she was so terrified of her bond with Ocean. She felt real, alive and come on, she was in a break dancing club with her epic brother and his friends, what could be more cool than that? Also, I’m quite smitten with Ocean James. He is honest, pure, sweet, respectful, soft and actually wanted to know her better rather than labeling her like everyone else. His dynamic with Shirin fit so well, their scenes were like sunshine. So warm and nice. Can we all just agree that Tahereh Mafi creates the best male characters? First Warner, now Ocean.
🔆 Another thing that struck me the most about a very large expanse of the sea was that I could strongly relate to her culture and the house rules. I don’t know about other Asian countries, but from were I am ; India, we have a lot of restrictions as teens. We aren’t allowed to go out that often and roam around after school or be out till late. Parents prefer home baked food rather than buying it and dating / boys is a big deal in our societies, it is mostly not permitted. Anyway it was really refreshing to see some of that representation in the book.
🔎 However, there are little bumps on every road.
- The ending although realistic was deeply unsatisfying
- no flowery writing like shatter me (you could see this as both a good and a bad thing)
- could have been longer and more developed
Nevertheless, I absolutely loved this book. It is an important tale that I should be no bound to age. It earned a 5/5 stars from me.
🔆 okay, I am super excited about defy me and I have so many questions. It is coming out in two days and I have so many questions and expectations and demands ugh
- let my precious ship be okay
- I want Nazeera and Kenji happening
- let Warner find peace please he’s been through so much
- I want to cry
- I love Warner.