A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a coming-of-age story following Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, in the extremely turbulent times after 9/11. Tired of all the rude stares, degrading comments, even the physical violence, she’s met with, Shirin has 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 and his friends. Until she meets Ocean, who sees her for who she is behind the stereotypes and refuses to let her rejection keep him from getting to know her better. Slowly, slowly he manages to break down her walls. (Yes, the title of the book is a very clever and poetic way of naming the book after Shirin’s love interest.)
I loved the first books in The Shatter Me-series by Tahereh Mafi and her unique, beautiful writing style just blew me off. So when I found out that she had written a new book with a Muslim main character who is completely herself, I had such high expectations of another wonderful breathtaking reading experience. Unfortunately though, the writing style is not at all the same in this book. The language is much more plain and nowhere near the feverish, raw, amazing way in which The Shatter Me-series was written.
Story-wise, I also feel that this book could have been so much more. I have settled for a 3 star rating of this book, since it on the one hand was very emotional and heart-breaking, showing Shirin’s anger and frustration at all the injustice and prejudice she’s suffering, but on the other hand, I didn’t connect with Shirin and the story was written in a tell-not-show-way while leaving too much out to make you fully invested in the story. There was so much more I wanted to know; like how could her parents be both so controlling and yet so disturbingly uninterested in her struggles, how was Shirin’s connection to her faith, did she pray, what did she think about kissing and being with a non-Muslim boy from that perspective, and more about the friendship with her breakdance-crew. I understand why Shirin kept everyone at arm’s length, but as a reader it was frustrating not to learn more about her thoughts and considerations. It also made the romance less real, less emotional, than it could have been. Ocean was adorable, so sweet and kind, but you never got really close to him either. It was as if he was too perfect to be a real person somehow. I wish it could have been more of Shirin actually seeing Ocean playing basket and being with his friends, to allow us readers to see him through her eyes. The romance and the story felt rushed, and I couldn’t invest emotionally in it as much as I’d like to, especially considering that it was such a huge part of the book.
Still, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is an important, emotional book dealing with racism in post-9/11 America, showing the anger, pain and struggle that a Muslim teenager may have to deal with and how horrible, hateful, mean and prejudice people can be. And even though the romance part wasn’t one of my favorites, the sibling relationship between Shirin and her older brother Navid was. I think Navid is now one of my favorite book brothers of all time. He was so protective of her, but also so supportive in the decisions she made. I just wish that the book had been MORE. More of Shirin’s sense of identity, her religious and cultural beliefs. More of her friendship with the breakdancing crew. More of the relationship with her brother and parents. This book had the potential of being the THUG for a Muslim main character, but unfortunately it did not live up to that. Still, I’m really happy that this book exists for Muslim teens to identify with and for opening the eyes of readers to all the horrible islamophobia in the world.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Tahereh Mafi
After reading Defensive Play by Jamie Deacon, she kindly sent me her new Boys on the Brink-story, Off Course, in exchange for an honest review. Since I loved Defensive Play so much, I couldn’t wait but dived into this book right away! And loved it just as much!
Off Course is an adorable short story about seventeen-year-old Jason Connor, the star of the cross country team, and his arch enemy Tarek “Taz” Bahrani. The first time Jason laid his eyes on the new team mate Taz, he was immediately intrigued by him; suddenly his stomach was full of butterflies just because Taz smiled at him. But the connection Jason thought they had, turned out to be a scheme to gain competitive advantage. Taz’s betrayal at their first race made Jason retaliate in a way that turned them into sworn enemies ever since. So when an injured ankle leaves him stranded in the woods with no means of calling for aid, the last person he wishes to find him is Taz… But what really happened that day six months ago? Who betrayed who? Forced together in the woods as a thunder storms breaks lose, they can’t avoid talking about the event that drew them apart, and maybe, mabye find a way back to each other again.
Just like Defensive Play, this is another lovely, sweet and heartwarming story about first love. Even though it’s a short story, Jamie Deacon manages to craft characters that you immediately root for. After reading two of the books in the LGBT YA series Boys on the Brink in just one day, I recommend it with all my heart and can’t wait to continue reading more of Jamie Deacon’s adorable books!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Jamie Deacon
“One glance is all it takes to bring his defences crashing down…”
Defensive Play is my first Jamie Deacon-book but certainly not my last! This novella drew me in from the very first sentence and kept me in a feverish grip the whole way through. Now I can’t wait to discover more of Jamie Deacon’s LGBTQ+ fiction for young adults!
Defensive Play is a very quick read, something to be read in a single sitting. It’s a novella only about 80 pages or so, but oh my how Jamie Deacon manages to tell a wholesome story and describe the characters and make you root for them on those few pages! Reading this book was a pure pleasure. It’s emotional, sweet and realistic and focuses on the gentle romance between two teenage boys, Davey and Adam.
Seventeen-year-old Davey is shy, anxious and does not makes friend easily, but has nevertheless earned respect and acceptance at school for his soccer skills. He is deep in his closet though; afraid of his teammates’ rejection, he’s kept the fact that he is gay a secret from everyone, even his own family. But when he meets Adam at a soccer tournament, the ache is too strong to resist. One look and sparks start to flare between them and Davey has to make a choice. Should he follow his heart and take a chance on finding love and happiness with Adam, or should he stay closeted and not risk losing his teammates, the closest thing to friends he has ever known?
It was really refreshing to see two such different characters in a sport setting, and that both Davey and Adam felt like real teenager, with a lot of depth and that neither of them was casted as a stereotypical nerd or jock, but a little of both. The way Davey feared not being liked and respected for who he is was so relatable. And even if Adam was confident, popular and comfortable with his sexuality, he had his own heart-ache and pain to deal with. It was so amazing to feel the chemistry between them and the way they complemented each other. I also really liked that there was no forced outing and that Adam didn’t put any pressure on Davey in that respect, but realized that it was all Davey’s decision if and when he felt ready for it.
Overall, this was a lovely, sweet and heartwarming story about first love and coming out that I recommend with all my heart! My only wish is that Jamie Deacon will let us read more about Davey and Adam in the future, I have not had enough of them. Not by close…
Find out more about the book and the author here: Jamie Deacon
The Demon World is the sequel to the wonderful, adorable and adventurous The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green.
Just like in The Smoke Thieves, this book has five main POV characters: Catherine, Ambrose, Tash, Edyon and March. In the first book I thought all of the POVs were a little too much at first, but now that you know all the characters better it was no problem at all.
The writing, the characters and the plot was really good this time around as well and there was a lot of action going on. Nevertheless, it did feel like not as much happened in this book as in The Smoke Thieves and I didn’t connect as much to the romance between Princess Catherine and Ambrose this time. To be honest, I didn’t like the way Catherine treated him at times, and I also think there might be another way Catherine could go relationship-wise in the next book, if we get to see more of Prince Tzsayn there... I really missed his character in this book!
All in all, this was a good read, but it suffered a bit from the typical second book syndrome. It felt a lot like Sally Green was moving her characters into position for the grand finale in the third book. So I’m definitely eagerly awaiting it to see what happens in the end!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Sally Green
The Stranger I Knew is a wonderful novella, a psychological YA mystery with a twist you do not see coming. It reminds me a bit of Dennis Lehane’s books; it’s a story where nothing is what it seems and as a reader you start to question what is real and what is just a dream, and if you can even trust the narrator at all. It’s so clever and brilliant and will keep you hooked all the way to the end!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Bound to Writing
“I congratulate and feel sorry for those of you that still have yet to discover Sally Rooney. It doesn’t happen very often, but it is both a great happiness and sorrow when it does – when you read a book that is so good that you, after finishing it, instinctively feel that you never want to read another book again. Partly because you feel that nothing will ever compare to it, but party also because the reading has affected you so deeply.”
I couldn’t agree more with this quote by the Swedish columnist Greta Thurfjell in her review in the magazine Dagens Nyheter. (My translation from Swedish, see the article in Dagens Nyheter for the original quote: Greta Thurfjell: Jag gratulerar och beklagar den som har Sally Rooney framför sig)
Normal People is a very emotional, intense and honest read, with a very unique voice. When I first started reading it, I wasn’t so sure about this book though. I thought it was good, but so different from other books and the ordinary narrative that I didn’t know or couldn’t see where it was going to go. But, luckily, that all changed very quickly and I was completely sucked in to the bittersweet story about Marianne and Connell.
Normal People traces the ever-shifting dynamics between Marianne and Connell, told in the form of conversations between them. Even though it revolves around their relationship from high school through university, it’s not a very romantic book. It’s more of a deep psychological study of two people struggling to maneuver through life and how the two protagonists develop as people. Marianne was the weird one in high school while Connell was the popular jock, but in university their statuses flip, which they never fully recover from. There were so many unspoken words and lost moments between the two take them on different paths that change their lives. Sally Rooney portrays such an honest, raw and real relationship, and aspects such as modern love, class and politics and the lasting effects of trauma. It’s a dark and intense book, exploring the impact of how our life experiences shape who we become in such a quiet, gut-wrenching way it made my heart ache.
I really loved it and definitely recommend it even though it broke my heart to see these characters hurting so much.
I absolutely love Ruty Sepetys’s gripping and beautiful historical books. I cried my heart out while reading Salt to the Sea, her masterpiece about hardship, humanity, loss, love and survival during WWII. The Fountains of Silence is another beautiful, romantic, sad but hopeful, honest and gripping gem by Ruta Sepetys, even if it’s not quite as heart-breaking as her previous books. (Luckily, I would say. There is just so much heart-break you can take…) Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite authors, and this book was no exception, just as her other books it touched my heart very deeply and the characters will stay with me for a long time.
The Fountains of Silence is set in Madrid, Spain, in 1957 and takes us on a journey into the dark and secret life under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco. The story is told from several POVs, but with the eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the aspiring photographer son of a Texas oil tycoon, and Ana Torres Moreno, who works as a maid at the hotel where Daniel and his parents are staying, as the two main characters. When Franco opens the door to American business men to invest in his country, the Mathesons take the chance to do oil business and to connect with the country of Daniel’s mother. Hoping to win a prestigious photography contest, Daniel tries to discover the real Spain through the lens of his camera with Ana as his guide. Via his encounters with Ana’s family and friends and their interweaving obstacles, Daniel (and we readers) learn more of the fears and hidden horrors and brutality of Franco’s Spain, including a parallel story of stolen babies.
I loved all of the characters in this book and the multiple POVs that truly brought the story to life. Daniel was such a sweetheart. So genuinely kindhearted, eager to learn and caring. And I completely rooted for Ana, wanting to rescue her from her hard and brutal reality. But there were so many other memorable and real characters in this book, Ana’s family members who all had at least two jobs each to try and keep the family together after their parents were executed by France, the bull fighter Fuga who dared to dream big, journalist Ben who became a mentor to Daniel, American ambassador son Nick with much more depth beneath his party animal impression and many others.
What I love about Ruty Sepetys’s books is that she always mixes the darkness with light, always shows the best and worst of humanity at the same time, always gives you so many wonderful characters you immediately fall in love with and hope and romance in the midst of the horrors.
All in all, this book was heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic, inspiring, painful, eye-opening and romantic at the same time. I recommend it with all my heart!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Ruta Sepetys
The Queen of Nothing is the third and final book to The Folk of the Air trilogy and the dark tale of Jude Duarte and her sisters, and their struggle as mortal in a Faerie world. Please note that his review contains spoilers, so don’t continue reading if you haven’t yet read the book or the previous books in the series!
This book has received some mixed reviews, but I honestly do not understand why. I loved this book and thought that it was a perfect finale to the trilogy. It was fast-paced (I finished it in one sitting) and it had action, twists and intrigues that kept you hooked until the very end. I actually think this was the best of all three books in the series, but that might be because I’ve had some mixed feelings about Jude and Cardan’s relationship previously.
Spoiler: The second book ended with Cardan, High King of Elfame, making Jude his Queen, only to exiling her and shoving her back into the human world. Now, even though they started off from a bad place, we eventually got to see them shedding their armor and opening up to each other, showing more affection and softer sides. In my review for the second book, I said that “I can’t see their relationship ever becoming a good one. There will always be this unhealthy undercurrent, a hint of violence and abuse, that you don’t want anyone ever get caught up in.” But I think I have to take that back now. The way the relationship evolved in this third book, with Cardan being vulnerable and admitting his true feelings changed all that.
All in all, this book wrapped up the series in a very satisfying way and made me like the characters even more than I did before. I definitely recommend it and even think that it might be my favorite book of all three in the series.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Holly Black
This book is a beautiful story of friendship, coming of age and finding out who you truly are. Aristotle (Ari) and Dante meet at the swimming pool one summer and become instant friends, despite seemingly having nothing in common. Ari is an angry, socially awkward, boy with a brother in prison and a father suffering from PTSD, who has more or less built a wall around himself. Dante is a sweet, kind, gentle, boy who loves art and poetry and who is not afraid to express his feelings and show his vulnerability. But as they spend the summer together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.
At first I had some problems to connect with Ari. His anger and cynical way of looking at the world made him much harder to like than the sweet, wonderful Dante. I did love Ari’s relationship with his mother though. They had such an honest and humorous relationship, full of bantering and snarky comments. Generally, this book contains such beautiful portrait of all the parents and how they are real persons with their own sad stories, feelings and shortcomings.
This book is one of the most intelligent YA books I’ve ever read. It’s built around Ari’s and Dante’s conversations about life, the meaning of it, the problems with family and growing up, and love. It’s written in such a tender way, gently describing how Ari and Dante explores their identity and sexuality, and eventually finds their place in the world. It’s a wonderful, authentic, painful and honest LGBT story, reminding us all how love always should be without shame.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Wayward Son is the sequel to Carry On, which followed the Chosen One Simon Snow and his witchery friends and (to be) boyfriend, Penny and Baz, as they fought the evil Humdrum. I loved Carry On so much, I remember saying that “the only negative thing about this book is that it is a standalone, I need more of SnowBaz, I haven’t had anywhere near enough of my favorite OTP”.
Then all of a sudden there was this sequel, so so happy for the wonderful surprise! I binge-read Wayward Son in one day and loved it! But please, Rainbow Rowell, tell us that you are writing on a third book?!! Don’t leave us hanging after that ending!
The series is something of a fan fiction for Harry Potter. It is also a spin-off from Rainbow Rowells’ book Fangirl, where Simon Snow began his life as a fictional character. In the beginning of Carry On it was quite easy to pick out the similarities between it and Harry Potter – Simon/Harry, all the things about being the “chosen one”, Baz/Draco, Penelope/Hermione, Watford/Hogwarts, the Humdrum/Voldemort etc - but this story very soon takes its own completely unique direction and it’s definitely not a rip-off of any kind. In this second book, it evolves even further.
In Wayward Son, we once again meet Simon, Baz and Penny after they war was won, after Simon saved the day and everything should be happily ever after. Baz is at university, thriving, and Penny is… well, Penny. But Simon is depressed and can’t find the energy to even get off the couch. He believes that his only purpose in life was magic, to be the chosen one that everyone needed. Now that it’s over, he fears that Baz and Penny don’t love him, that they only ever did because of his power.
“This is what happens when you try to hang on after the end. When your time has come and passed. When you’ve done the things you were meant to do.”
I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing style with all the different POVs and the fast pace, the characters and their dialogues. The light banter between Penny, Simon and Baz was hilarious, I didn’t realize just how much I missed Baz’s snarky retorts. This series is not the traditional fantasy one, it’s more of a magical adventure written in a contemporary, quirky style with amazing characters and relationship. It was the characters and their feelings and the dialogues that lead the story in such an amazing and addictive way, not the fantasy plot.
It was also such an unusual take to follow ex-heros and show what happens after the epic battle has been won. Not to mention how it shows mental illness and takes a pretty serious look at depression and PTSD. While yet managing to make it a fun read! Not an easy task! I love how Rainbow Rowell adds so much depth and dimensions to the characters by displaying their shortcomings and problems. And how she managed to make Simon and Baz’s relationship just as heart-wrenching and dramatic as in Carry On, even though they were supposed to be in an easy relationship and enjoying their new quiet life together.
I also really liked the new character Shephard and I hope we get to see more of him in the third book that I hope (demand!) that Rainbow Rowell will give us after that cliffhanger! (If there would not be a continuance of Simon and Baz’s journey, it would be nothing less than pure evil.)
Find out more about the books and the author here: Rainbow Rowell
Hi! I'm Annie, a Swedish bookworm, YA addict and coffee lover, who writes romantic YA books in English. I'm the author of the Angelheart Saga series (First Came Forever and Forever Disguised).
I love YA books and want to share what I read with you too, so check out my reading tips here!
Below you can find the reviews per author as well.