This month’s FYA Book Club selection is A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi. Check out the discussion questions below! (Slight spoilers ahead.)
P.S. If you’ve already read the book, feel free to add any other discussion questions of your own in the comments!
Since this book is set in 2002 and there’s a lot of chatting via AOL Instant Messenger, what’s something from your early internet days that you’re willing to share–a cringy screen name? Something you wrote about on LiveJournal? Song lyrics in your away message?
1. Set a year after the 9/11 attacks, Shirin finds herself the victim of harassment and violence from strangers, other students at school, and even her teachers. Were you surprised or shocked by some of the things people said to her? What did you think of the way Shirin reacted in these situations?
2. Though A Very Large Expanse of Sea is not an autobiography, Tahereh Mafi would have been a teenager in the years after 9/11. Her parents are from Iran, she wears a headscarf, and, like Shirin, she loves fashion and breakdancing. Considering the similarities between Mafi and Shirin, why do you think Mafi was inspired to write this book as a love story?
3. Shirin experiences micro (and not-so-micro) aggressions for choosing to wear her headscarf every day, but there are times when other Muslim characters are disapproving of her lifestyle. What did you think of the way Islam and Muslims were portrayed in this book? Were you surprised by some of the ways Shirin was treated by those around her?
4. Shirin’s Persian culture plays a large part in this story. What did you learn by reading about her family’s home life? Did you have a favorite aspect of Persian culture that Shirin describes?
5. Popular basketball star Ocean seems to be the only person who notices Shirin and wants to get to know her. Shirin is cautious, but eventually they both give in to their feelings. What did you think of Ocean and Shirin’s romance? Did you like Ocean and sympathize with the struggles he faced in his private life? What about the struggles he faced when dating Shirin?
6. Shirin has a lot of cool interests and hobbies, but in an act of self-preservation, she’s built some pretty tough walls around herself. Now that you’ve had a chance to get to know her, would you give her a BFF Charm? Did you wish Shirin had more friends or did you understand why she has kept to herself for so long?
7. Mafi leaves the story open-ended. Do you think Shirin and Ocean stayed together and had their happily ever after, or did they learn and grow from this experience and go their separate ways?
8. As a contemporary novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a departure from Mafi’s previous fantasy books, though isolation and loneliness are major themes in both. What did you think of her writing style, and if you’ve read her other books, how did it compare to Juliette’s voice in the Shatter Me series?
9. This month, Mafi released another contemporary novel set in the years after 9/11, An Emotion of Great Delight. Do you plan to read it?