Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

I really did not expect to be so drawn into this book. I knew it was going to be good but I was really touched by Shirin’s story. She is a 16 year-old Muslim girl living in the US 1 year after 9/11. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy for her. It was just easier for her to get through her day to just shut down and not let people in. She tried to convince herself that she didn’t care that people called her names or insulted her or just plain treated her like a walking stereotype. She had seen the worst of humanity after the post 9/11 fear of all things Islam and her wearing a headscarf made her an easy target. She went through the motions at school and break-danced after school with her brother and that was it. That was until she met Ocean James, a boy who seemed interested in actual getting to know her. This terrifies her. She doesn’t know why a guy like him would be interested in a girl like her and knows that while he might be a nice boy the world is not. She tries to push him away to try to protect him but also to protect herself from the world of hurt. The worst thing is that when she finally let him in and things inevitably go bad, she questions whether she is worth all the drama and hatred that is brought his way. That was truly heartbreaking. Over the course of the book, Shirin starts to open up not just to Ocean but to everyone else too. Yes, people are horrible. Even more so when they are afraid but shutting everyone else only shuts you out of opportunities and experiences that you would have missed otherwise. It gives them power over you. I know easier said than done. Ocean is also a good example of well meaning White Allies who try hard but don’t really understand how white privilege works. Ocean, truly doesn’t care that Shirin is Muslim or that she wears a headscarf. If anything, he likes that she is different and unapologetic. Shirin spends most of the book trying to push Ocean away because she knows what a shitstorm it’s going to be when their relationship goes public. He doesn’t believe her and tries to convince her it’s going to be okay. Well, sadly she is right and when racism against her threatens him and his place in school, it’s Shirin who has to make the decision to stay or go. The problem that many of us White allies is that we think we know what’s the best thing to do but fail to listen when our brothers and sisters of colors speak about what they really need from us. Ocean, while in love and well intention thought she was overacting, that he understood his classmates better. What he failed to realize was that he lived a privilege life and people will always accept him no matter what because of who he is. His life may not be perfect but it will always be easier then those in the marginalized communities. It’s a lesson we all need to learn. This is just a beautifully written book and I hope that it’s added to school curriculum for years to come because it has so much to give.

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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This book was so stinkin’ cute! This story follows Dimple, ready to concur her first year of Stanford and get going on her life as a app/web developer. But, she still has to wait for the summer to be over. She’d like to spend that time at Insomnia Con, a summer learning experience where she can learn to develop an app with a partner. If she wins the Con, she’ll get to meet her hero, Jenny Lindt, who will also partner with her to finish the app and get it out into the market. She’s so stoked when her parents agree that she should go. Really, though, she should have seen that they had an ulterior motive.

Rishi is excited to meet the woman that his parents want to arrange for him to marry. He assumes that this lady knows what’s up, so he goes to Insomnia Con, requests to work with her as her partner on the app and… is surprised to find out that not everyone has been as forthcoming as his parents were. Even though he couldn’t give a toss about web development, he’s still determined to make it work, even volunteering his art skills for Dimple’s app.

Will it work? Will it all end in a disastrous pile of flames? Will they win? Does Dimple meet her hero? You should read it and find out.  Or, listen to it, like I did. The book is narrated by Sneha Mathan and Vikas Adam and they did an excellent job. I recommend this, especially if you like light stories with well developed, complex characters. So good.

Unrelated, thanks to this book I feel like those four semesters of Hindi I took in college have finally found a use. Listening to the audio book, I was so happy to understand that bits and pieces of Hindi in the text. I still remember some words! Amazing! I was also pleased as punch to occasionally provide an explanation of something for my Mom, who was also listening to this with me. But, no worries if that isn’t something you have in your background. These small bits of text add to the story and they won’t create a stumbling block for you and your understanding. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a bilingual household, because I didn’t, so it is really neat to find fictional representations of what that might look like.

 

This is the second book I finished for the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge!