Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A Muslim teenager navigates high school while facing racism and Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11.


Tahereh Mafi's "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" is a powerful and thought-provoking young adult novel that delves into the complex themes of identity, discrimination, and the challenges of being a Muslim teenager in post-9/11 America. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Shirin, the novel offers a poignant exploration of love, prejudice, and the struggle for acceptance in a world filled with hate and misunderstanding.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The story is set in the year 2002, a year after the devastating events of 9/11. The protagonist, Shirin, is a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl navigating high school in a small town in America. As a result of her faith and ethnicity, she faces relentless prejudice and discrimination from her classmates. Shirin copes with the hostility she encounters by withdrawing into herself, focusing on breakdancing, and avoiding forming connections with others to shield herself from potential hurt.

Main Events

1-3Shirin starts at a new high school. She is immediately faced with prejudice and racism.
4-6Shirin meets Ocean James, a kind and understanding classmate. They develop a friendship that turns into a romantic relationship.
7-9Shirin and Ocean's relationship faces challenges due to the prejudice and discrimination they encounter.
10-12Shirin confronts her own fears and insecurities while navigating her feelings for Ocean and the hostility around her.
13-15A significant event forces Shirin to reevaluate her perspective on love and her own resilience.

Main Characters


Shirin is a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who is passionate about breakdancing and fiercely independent. She has learned to shield herself from the world due to the discrimination she faces daily.

Ocean James

Ocean is a kind and empathetic classmate who sees beyond Shirin's defenses and is determined to break down the barriers she has built around herself.

Themes and Insights

Identity and Prejudice

The novel delves deeply into the theme of identity and the impact of prejudice on an individual's sense of self. Shirin's struggle to reconcile her Muslim identity with the hostility she faces offers a compelling exploration of the complexities of being a minority in a post-9/11 America.

Love and Acceptance

The novel also explores the themes of love and acceptance in the face of adversity. Shirin's relationship with Ocean becomes a poignant symbol of hope and resilience, illustrating the transformative power of love in the midst of hate and prejudice.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Very Large Expanse of Sea" offers a compelling and emotionally resonant narrative that sheds light on the challenges faced by Muslim teenagers in post-9/11 America. The novel's exploration of identity, prejudice, and the redemptive power of love makes it a compelling and thought-provoking read for young adults and readers of all ages. Tahereh Mafi's evocative storytelling and nuanced character development make this novel a powerful and important addition to the contemporary young adult literary landscape.


In "A Very Large Expanse of Sea," Tahereh Mafi delivers a searing and emotionally impactful narrative that sheds light on the struggles faced by Muslim teenagers in post-9/11 America. Through the compelling character of Shirin and her poignant journey of self-discovery and resilience, Mafi offers readers a profound and thought-provoking exploration of identity, prejudice, and the redemptive power of love. This novel is a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity and a poignant reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding in a world fraught with hate and misunderstanding.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea FAQ

  1. What is 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea' about?

    The book is about a 16-year-old Muslim girl named Shirin who experiences prejudice and racism in the aftermath of 9/11. It explores her struggles with identity, love, and finding her place in the world.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea'?

    The author of 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea' is Tahereh Mafi. She is known for her bestselling 'Shatter Me' series as well.

  3. What genre does 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea' belong to?

    The book falls into the category of young adult fiction, specifically dealing with themes of contemporary romance and social issues.

  4. Is 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea' a standalone novel or part of a series?

    'A Very Large Expanse of Sea' is a standalone novel, not part of any series.

  5. What are some key themes in 'A Very Large Expanse of Sea'?

    Some key themes in the book include racism, Islamophobia, first love, finding one's voice, and the impact of social and political events on individuals.