An emotion of great delight by Tahereh Mafi

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Shadi spends her time, head down, trying to avoid conflict, as a young Muslim girl in an aggressive environment, the post 9/11 world of 2003, around the time that the United States entered into war with Iraq. She is American, but constantly identified as alien because of her hijab, threatened by belligerent police, and taunted by fellow school students. She has promised her mother to never react, never make a scene, so she is quiet, her feelings repressed.

Mafi’s writing is outstanding in describing Shadi’s inner turmoil, the feelings that bubble below the surface; a portrayal of victimhood that is exacerbated by the cruel revilement she receives from her former best friend Zahra. On top of that, Shadi’s home life is falling apart, her brother killed in a car accident, her father in hospital, and her mother lost to grief. Her sister Shayda has become angry, the two girls each holding different views about the cause of their brother’s death. And Ali, the boy that Shadi is drawn to, seems lost to her.

At times the emotional descriptions seem torrential, never ending. There are some bright moments, but the threads tend to get lost. Mafi’s depiction of the lost and lonely girl, envious of the warm and welcoming home life of her former friend Zahra, is particularly moving, a very realistic portrayal of an anguished and suffering child.

The writing is powerful, and will bring tears to the eyes. However I think there comes a point where the reader shares Ali’s exasperation at Shadi’s failure to stand up for herself. But perhaps that is realistic; in real life, people don’t suddenly become heroes. There is no magical happy ending. Mafi brings the story to a climax that may be a little confusing and unsatisfying to the reader, but in reality patterns that have been established over years will not be easily resolved. There is hope, but not a magical resolution.

Young adolescent readers will not fail to be drawn into Shadi’s emotional world. It is gripping. Also, the depiction of friendship that deteriorates into spitefulness, and the experience of daily Islamophobic bullying, are particularly powerful. Readers will feel empathy for Shadi’s plight and gain greater insight into the world of the person cast as the outsider.

Themes: Grief, Loneliness, Islamophobia, Bullying.

Helen Eddy