Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

“Author note: A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and break dancing. It’s my story.”

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Blurb: “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.”

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, and her newest release sees her dipping in to YA Contemporary to tell a much more personal story. Tahereh has always been a rather private person but she felt compelled to write a story encapsulating her love for break dancing and fashion, along with the racism and islamaphobia she’s experienced. I was fortunate enough to receive a chapter sampler from the publisher which I reviewed here.Though I want to make it clear that I was not given the full book for free. this review comes from me picking up and reading it myself.

Shirin is a character that I connected with instantly. I’m not sure if it was the prior knowledge that Tahereh has put a lot of herself into the character, but Shirin just felt like a real person. I felt for her when she shared her experiences in the rise of racism following 9/11, how she dealt with both verbal and physical assault. Her concerns were understandable, especially when she meets a boy called Ocean and worries about what their association will do for his reputation.

Ocean is a prime example of someone who wants to educate themselves and learn more about other cultures and religions but is blinded by his privilege. He dismisses Shirin’s concerns a lot because he has a good social standing at the school. However, it’s so clear from the narrative that he really does care for Shirin.

Their romance is a bit of a cliché in the sense that Shirin worries about a big problem such as daily abuse and often fearing for her life, meanwhile Ocean’s biggest concern is….basketball. Despite this, it didn’t do much to knock my enjoyment reading.

The narrative addresses the mob rule in high school and how it’s hard to tell who’s really on their side when their peers flit so easily; especially when it’s those in power such as teachers also contributing to it which just made my blood boil.

Another unexpected partnership I ended up loving was Shirin and her brother Navid. I loved seeing him look after her and standing up for her when she was assaulted. He also helped give her something she could have purely for herself: break dancing.

The break dancing became more of a footnote, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the book. I wish there could have been more of that.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

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Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

A Cover Is Not The Book

Recently, I went to see Mary Poppins Returns in the cinema and I absolutely loved every single second of it. But among all the familiarity, the contrast of colours and the pure magic weaved into its story, one song in particular stuck out to me.

The song is called “A Cover Is Not The Book” and tackles the topic of how really you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover because then you’ll be surprised and find that your preconceptions were actually quite wrong. It got me thinking about some books I’ve come across where I wasn’t that enamored with the cover but, whether through knowledge of the author or hearing many good things, I decided to continue on and see what happens.

So here’s a list, in no particular order, of books where I hated the covers, but really loved the story:

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

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Did you really think this would be the year where I didn’t mention The Great Gatsby at any given opportunity? One of my favourite books of all time but has a truly appalling original cover. Of course, like with many classics, there are many different editions out there but I chose to stick with the original as this was the cover of the copy I read. It was purely because of the 2013 adaption that I picked this book up so that I could experience the story for myself. Little did I know that the glitz and glamour of 1920’s parties, luscious prose and complex, intoxicating characters would have me coming back for many a reread.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare 

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I promise that this list isn’t going to include all my favourite books! Another book that I picked up because of an upcoming film adaptation, City of Bones was a game changer for me.  After devouring this book and its subsequent partners, I took a shift in my reading life to YA fantasy and also realised it was the kind of stuff that I wanted to write more of. A tale packed full of half angel- half human individuals battling demons in a world of warlocks, vampires and werewolves. There sure is something for everyone.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi 

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea made it onto my list of favourite books for last year. It follows a Muslim teenager called Shirin as she tackles school and wider society a year on from the events of 9/11. She is an incredible well-rounded character with so many layers to her than what those see around her, and I actually really liked the romance in it. The cover itself, however, I just found a bit bland. I get the effect of showing the reflection in water but I feel that it’s just too simplistic.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

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Victoria Schwab is an auto-buy author for me so most of the time I pick up her books not really knowing that much about them. City of Ghosts is a prime example of the US cover being infinitely better than the UK cover. I just really don’t like the way the red and black blend together and it makes it actually hurt my eyes to look at. The story, however, is fantastic. It’s about a girl who can see ghosts and sometimes step into the veil to the other side. It will appeal greatly to fans of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

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Again, another one where I feel that the cover is a bit too simple. But the story is outstanding, and turned into an equally amazing film adaptation. It’s about a boy called August with a facial disfigurement who starts his first year in public school after being home schooled. It’s multiple perspective which works really well to see into the minds of other characters and how they view August. It’s a tearjerker, so make sure you have tissues handy.

So that’s my list! What are some books that you loved but didn’t like the cover?

Alternatively, what are some of your favourite book covers?

 

 

Posted in discussion

Favourite Books Of The Year | 2018

The arrival of a brand new reading year means that it is time to reflect back on the many stories I consumed in 2018. Sadly, it is not a year will miss as I spent most of it in a big old slump. More often than not, I’d find a gem I adored, finish it and be left thinking “now what?” So, while those standouts were few and far between, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy of a place on this list.

The Extinction Trials: Books 1 &2 by S.M.Wilson

Yes, it’s cheeky to start my summary with two books not only from the same author, but from the same series. But it’s my list and I make the rules!

The Extinction Trials tells the tale of two continents: one inhabited by humans and the other by dinosaurs. The human continent is vastly overpopulated and vital supplies such as healthcare are in short supply. Every year citizens are invited to volunteer to take part in a series of trials to prove that they are worthy of being sent to the dinosaur continent, Pilora, in search of more sustainable resources. Stormchaser and Lincoln both have their reasons for joining the cause.

This book is just so vivid and well written with an incredible cast of characters, all of which you can sympathize with. Oh, and of course dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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A book that would have completely passed me by if it wasn’t shoved into my hands by a friend, How To Stop Time follows a man who has a rare condition meaning that he has been alive for centuries. Every few years he is forced to change everything in his life in order to avoid detection, while also searching for his missing daughter who also has the same condition.

A beautiful, though-provoking read that tackles history and importance of identity, wrapped up in breath-taking prose.

The Loneliest Girl In The Universe by Lauren James 

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Sci-fi is a genre that I have tried many times to dip my toes into but just don’t get on with. However, I kept hearing a lot of buzz in the YA community about this book. So I went into the reading experience hoping it would prove me wrong, and boy it did.

The Loneliest Girl In The Universe follows teenage girl Romy as she flies a spaceship to a new Earth in the hopes of starting new life. Besides the mundane ship maintenance she carries out every day, her existence revolves around the emails she receives – a year after they were sent- from a woman at Nasa.

It’s isolating, character driven brilliance and I found myself sharing Romy’s excitement every time she got the notification that a new message had arrived. I still think about this book every day.

Paper Girls: Volume 1  by Brian K.Vaughan and Cliff Chiang 

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Another genre I’ve always struggled with is graphic novels. It’s such a big intimidating corner of the bookstore and I always feel like other shoppers can tell that I clearly don’t know what I’m doing or looking at. But one day I noticed this face out on the shelf and something about the cover just made me go “yes please!” I started reading and knew I had to buy it; despite being skeptical that it was by the same writer of Saga which I hated.

Paper Girls is… well about a group of paper round girls in the eighties who come together on a night when all manner of weird things begin to happen. I love all their different personalities and the artwork is simply gorgeous!

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi 

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Tahereh’s step into YA contemporary sees her putting a lot of her experiences as a fashion obsessed, breakdancing muslim teenager into the character of Shirin. The story takes place a year after the events of 9/11 and documents the shift in how she is perceived in the world.

Shirin is an amazingly well-rounded character and while I can’t relate directly to her story, I felt so hard for her when she opens up to the reader about what she expects from those around her. So imagine her surprise when a rather attractive boy called Ocean (yes, Ocean) starts paying an interest in her.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

So there you have it! That’s my round up of 2018.
Did any of your books make my list?
What were some of your standouts?

Posted in contemporary, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea (Chapter Sampler) – Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and breakdancing. It’s my story, and I’m grateful to you for reading.”

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Blurb: “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.”

*This Sampler was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Additional Note: I am very aware that as a white reviewer that there are aspects of this story I cannot connect to and I am sharing this from a place of privilege. If you know of any own voice reviews of this sampler please let me know and I will add them here.

Like probably everyone, I know Tahereh Mafi from her best-selling YA series Shatter Me and I have been a follower of all her social media platforms for many years. She has been quite reserved when it comes to her personal life which made it even more interesting when she announced a new book – a YA contemporary taking aspects of her experiences growing up as a Muslim in America, oh and her love for breakdancing.

It’s very hard for me to judge this story fairly until the book I actually out as I was only given a first-chapter sampler but what I read has left me begging for the rest of it.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea follows Shirin who has just started at a new school; her fourth in two years. Initially, Shirin comes across as abrasive and the epitome of “fuck you and fuck the world.” However, her demeanour began to quickly make sense: she is growing up in a world that constantly takes her at face value, judging her before they even get the chance to know her. It was expected from her classmates but shocking to also see the teachers acting the same way. She addresses the double standards compared to her brother: while she is attacked for wearing a hijab and receives a torrid of islamophobia, her brother is fawned over by girls who find him “exotic.”

The reader really gets the sense that she’s struggling to find her place in the world and break dancing will become something positive she can invest her time in; something where who she is outside of the moves won’t matter. Also I’ve never read a book that really focuses on breakdancing before and I’m very intrigued to see where the rest of the story goes.

Publication Date: 16th October 2018

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