I was excited to read this book, because I so loved Mafi's other YA contemporary, A Very Large Expanse of Sea (also the last book I reviewed in 2022). Expanse was about a teen Muslim girl who chooses to wear a hijab, a couple years after 9-11. This book also has that same setup, but the problems the girls are dealing with are very different, although both touch on similar themes relating to bullying, family, friendship, love, defining who you are, and finding your place in the world you happen to exist in.
Family and Friends
So Emotion did not disappoint. Shadi’s parents are immigrants from Iran. We’re never told exactly where they live, but it seems to be middle America, whatever that might mean—nowhere really big or really small. Shadi’s dealing with a lot of trouble at home—her brother has recently died and her father is sick and probably dying—but her other major problem is the disintegration of her oldest friendship with another Iranian-American girl named Zahra.
It’s not clear what happened with Zahra, but we do learn over time that it was ugly and seemingly not Shadi’s fault (like legitimately not her fault, not like she won’t accept responsibility). And a secondary consequence of that friendship ending is that it also ended a friendship with Ali, Zahra’s brother, which we understand was also important to Shadi.
Shadi is really torn up about her brother’s death, even though it takes a while for us to learn what happened to him. She’s also angry at her father about something and really wishes he would just die already. Her mom is a mess and her sister is obnoxious as ever.
Everybody keeps forgetting about her and she’s stuck walking to and from school and other places she has to go, even if they’re far away and it’s pouring buckets. She’s so busy trying to stay under the radar and not cause waves around her that she doesn’t pay much attention to what she herself needs and wants.
Shadi grows over the course of the book and figures out how to stand up for herself, even though it’s in a quiet and non-disruptive way. By the end she is doing what she wants, and reading it made me happy. The novel isn’t plot-heavy by any means, but it’s a beautiful portrait of a Muslim teen girl—who has all sorts of expectations dumped on her—trying to make her way in a tough world.