After the completion of her Shatter Me series, Tahereh Mafi showcased her versatility as a writer by shifting gears from speculative fiction to contemporary fiction. Her last YA novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, features a hijab-wearing Muslim American teen growing up post-9/11, loosely based on Mafi’s own experiences. Mafi’s most recent release, An Emotion of Great Delight, is a contemporary fiction similarly centering a Muslim American teenager set in 2003. While both are emotional books, An Emotion of Great Delight is heavier in its sorrow as a book that addresses a lot of mental health issues.
Shadi’s life is crumbling apart beneath her. Her older brother died, her father is dying in the hospital, her best friend cut her off, and her mother is falling apart. And as if that isn’t enough, she is also coping with personal heartbreak. With enough issues at home, Shadi tries to keep to herself, but her hijab and increasing Islamophobic hysteria make her a target. The book is told in a dual timeline—set between 2003, a few months after the start of the Iraq war and the personal tragedy that struck Shadi’s family—and 2002, when her brother Mehdi was still alive, and when her best friend Zahra was still in her life.
Tahereh Mafi’s descriptive imagery and almost poetic writing style in An Emotion of Great Delight wholly immerses readers in the emotional narrative. And while I enjoyed reading the book, I finished An Emotion of Great Delight with an unfulfilled feeling, like something was missing. Certain plot points felt that they could have been more layered and further developed, such as the conflicts between characters. Developing those conflicts in a more layered way could also help contribute to Shadi’s representation as a complex character and her evolution throughout the book.
At risk of spoiling the book I won’t go into too much detail, but it felt like there was potential to dig further into the root of certain issues and topics brought up in the book. However, An Emotion of Great Delight was brief enough that it could only scratch the surface of some of those topics.
For some reason, I wasn’t as invested in the romantic subplot in this book. There were so many other elements in the book that felt worth unpacking. As a whole though, I appreciated the heavier identity, family and mental health issues centered in the book. The romantic subplot does not overshadow these elements necessarily, but they felt much richer. I also enjoyed reading about Noah’s character and wish he had more page time.
While An Emotion of Great Delight is an emotional book that draws readers in, it felt incomplete in a way. I would love to see a sequel. However, both Tahereh Mafi’s contemporary novels—A Very Large Expanse of Sea and An Emotion of Great Delight—have compelling heart and immersive writing that make them worth the read.
An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi was published on June 1st, 2021.