Tahereh Mafi's AN EMOTION OF GREAT DELIGHT - A Compelling Character Study
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Tahereh Mafi has become one of my favorite YA authors. Whether it's the dystopian Shatter Me series (Amazon | Bookshop.org) or her previous historical YA novel A Very Large Expanse of Sea (Amazon | Bookshop.org), Mafi maintains a brilliant balance between complex characters and compelling plots. An Emotion of Great Delight continued this trend for me.
Shadi's life is in shambles. It's 2003, and the U.S. is at war with Iraq, which means that Shadi is facing increased attacks at school, an easy and visible target because of the hijab she wears. Her older brother is dead; she and her sister are in constant, low-level conflict; her father is in the hospital; and her mother is unable to overcome her depression and grief. For a while, Shadi's best friend, Zahra, seems to be someone she can count on, but then Zahra ends their friendship. That also means that Zahra's brother Ali and her parents are no longer support for Shadi, either. Shadi is lost, anchorless.
That's just the setup, and it's definitely a heartbreaking one. The narration by Lanna Joffrey is excellent, vividly bringing Shadi and her perspective on the world to life. What I loved about this one is the total immersion in Shadi's character, the way that she's constantly searching for small bits of hope, for ways to help, even in the midst of her difficulties. Mafi's writing is always beautiful, and while I'm never able to absorb that as much via audio, her evocation of character is stunning.
Through the book, Shadi reaches out to make connections to several other characters: to Ali, Zahra's brother, who tries to renew their friendship; to Noah, a new student at school; to her sister, with whom she hopes to reach a new understanding. Though I do think these characters could have been more developed, I also appreciate that we are so firmly in Shadi's world that our only perspective, our only consciousness, is hers.
If you haven't delved into Mafi's work, I think this brief, beautiful book would be a wonderful starting point.
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