I had to request this book from NetGalley as soon as I saw the author’s name! Big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
From bestselling and National Book Award-nominated author Tahereh Mafi comes a stunning novel about love and loneliness, navigating the hyphen of dual identity, and reclaiming your right to joy–even when you’re trapped in the amber of sorrow.
It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.
She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.
Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her heart–
Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.
An Emotion of Great Delight is a searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11. It’s about a child of immigrants forging a blurry identity, falling in love, and finding hope–in the midst of a modern war.
This is one of those books that’s less about actions and more about thoughts and feelings, which also means that it’s the type of book that usually starts to bore me after a little while because I start raving dialogue and big conflict.
In this case, however, I actually really got into the writing style and didn’t mind so much the lack of huge conflict.
Don’t get me wrong, this book definitely has external conflict, but it’s written in a way that feels so raw, emotional, and personal that everything else seems to quiet down around it.
Shadi’s hurt felt so damn real, but so did her hope. This book is written beautifully, showing grief in the wake of the death of a loved one, the violence of racism, and the pain of growing up while also painting hope and growth at the end of the dark tunnel.
This book is told in alternating timelines between the present and a year prior. In the present, Shadi’s family is broken, her best friend hates her, and she is weighed down by grief. In the past, her family is loving and united, her relationships seem strong, and she doesn’t have to worry about how she’s going to complete the simple tasks of getting home and doing schoolwork. The contrast between these times just adds to the heartbreak you feel from Shadi.
I really loved seeing Shadi slowly develop throughout the book: seeing her open up to Noah, rekindle a bond with Ali, and confront her feeling about her family and her former best friend was heartwarming. I felt so proud of her for confronting her conflicts head-on and learning to open up and lean on a worthy support system when she needed it.
There were a few things that brought my rating down for this book, despite loving the emotional angles.
One of the biggest downsides that I found was the ending itself. There was just so much that was left open-ended, and depending on the book this isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case the author had introduced so many struggles and didn’t seem to offer any sort of conclusion to any of them. The book just had such a sense of tension and felt like it was really building up to something and then it just abruptly ended. I was reading this on my Kindle app and I turned the page and there were the acknowledgements. I was fully, completely, one-hundred percent expecting many more chapters, but it just stopped right then and there. It was like I was holding my breath the entire book and, just when I thought I’d be able to finally take a breath and get some relief, the book ended and I was still uncomfortably holding my breath waiting for something to change.
Another thing that I didn’t like was the piece about Shadi speaking about burqas and the women who wear them. I don’t want to be super spoilers or quote the arc in case it’s changed but I just didn’t like it. I don’t know if the author was intentionally showing Shadi to be racist/stereotyping others since she had pointed out numerous times that there are racists within her own community, but it wasn’t done in a way that makes that easy to pick up on. And even if it was done intentionally it seemed to be written in such an offhand way and then never discussed later. I just…didn’t like it.
I also didn’t appreciate how the author wrote a character as seemingly wonderful as Noah and then only included him in 2-3 very minor scenes. Instead, the book focused more on the romantic relationship than the friendship. I simply don’t understand why Noah was even written if he had such a seemingly small and inconsequential role in the book. I would have loved to see more of him and see the relationship between Shadi and Noah evolve.
It definitely isn’t a perfect read but I’d still recommend reading this if the summary sounds interesting to you. It delves into grief, growth, and racism in very open ways. I devoured this book in a very short amount of time because, despite how painful some scenes were, I couldn’t stop reading. This is a great book if you’re looking to be repeatedly sucker punched in the center of your emotions, but it definitely does come with its flaws.