I didn't expect to like this one, but it surprised me! A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Shirin’s time at her 12th school (she and her family move a lot). Because she is Persian and wears a hijab, she is bullied, harassed, and stereotyped a lot— especially as this book takes place a year after 9/11. Because of that bullying, she has created a shell that she hides within throughout the school day. Despite that barrier, a boy, Ocean, falls for Shirin and has to do quite a lot of convincing to get Shirin to agree to date him. Unfortunately, everyone at school—his basketball coach, even his mom— despise this turn of events and try to get Shirin to break things off with Ocean. What will Shirin do? They have an extraordinary connection and care deeply about one another. Is the even-more-bullying worth it for her love life?
The bullying Shirin ensures that causes her to create her shell is an incredible mirror for my own middle/high school experience. Obviously I wasn’t harassed and prejudiced like she, a Muslim post-9/11, is, but I still connect so hard with the shell she has built around herself as a protective barrier. I did that, too, as someone who was bullied, friendless, quiet, and “therefore” intimidating. I was so worried and shy (and my brain chemistry so messed up thanks to depression) that I was actually afraid of interactions at school, just like Shirin is. But when she finally learns about opening up and putting aside her shell, high-school-me would not have understand. Now, 15 years later, I can better appreciate Shirin’s growth and the resolution of the story. (And while I still wish we could have the shy-kid story, I have to remind myself that this isn’t what AVLEoS is, so I have to stop aligning my own history with it.)