It’s 2003 and the United States has declared war on Iraq following the September 11th attacks two years earlier on the World Trade Center in New York City. Shadi, who is already navigating strained friendships, family tragedies and existing as a Muslim in a post-9/11 society, now has to deal with raids at her Mosque, racism at her school and worries about becoming the victim of a hate crime.
Even though she’s American, people don’t treat her that way because of her traditional dress and practicing faith. And her closest friends seems to be falling away from the faith too and distancing themselves from her, leaving her feeling pretty alone in the world.
Shadi’s name means joy, but she certainly doesn’t seem to find much to be joyful about. That is until Ali begins to work his way back into her life – a relationship that seemed too difficult to navigate just a year ago. She can’t forget him; he can’t forget her and fate seems to be thrusting them together amid the family breakdown Shadi is experiencing. Through it all, she begins to find herself and hope when she needs it the most.
An Emotion of Great Delight is the second realistic fiction title from National Book Award nominee Tahereh Mafi. While not purely biographical, Mafi is also Iranian-American and notes in the book’s forward that there are pieces of her life told in all her books. She was a freshman in high school when 9/11 happened, so it’s likely much of her perspective of the events told in the book are pretty true to life.
This is the third book I’ve read by Mafi and her storytelling gets better with each one. Even though the fantasy Shatter Me series is her most well-known, I actually prefer her realistic fiction titles to those. This was one that I read in the span of a day; the story draws you in and you genuinely feel for Shadi. I wanted a little more of post-9/11 woven into the story, but that aspect of the timeline is more a background player for the bigger plot: Shadi, Ali and finding herself.
My biggest criticism is just how much is happening. It’s fairly short for a YA novel – not quite 200 pages, but there is A LOT going on. Her dad is in the hospital, her brother recently died, her mother has some hidden issues, plus fallout with friends at school and growing up Muslim right after a terrorist attack. It’s pretty packed, which makes it a heavy read.
It’s still very worthwhile and offers a unique perspective on the post 9/11 world that readers may not have encountered before. Mafi’s writing is beautiful, propelling you toward the quick and satisfying conclusion. This one will probably make my best books of 2021 list at the end of the year!
Thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins for the advanced reader copy. All thoughts are my own in the review and any quotes take from the text are subject to change in the final edition. An Emotion of Great Delight is scheduled for release on June 1, 2021.