Thank you to the author and publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This being the first Tahereh Mafi book I’ve encountered, I had pretty high expectations, and was not disappointed. Mafi astounds me with her prose and the grip her words had on my heart. Shadi faces fights in all directions, and at the end of the day, she is simply tired of fighting. Ironically, she also learns how to stop fighting herself.
Title: An Emotion of Great Delight
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Source: Physical ARC via publisher
Age Range: YA contemporary
Representation: Muslim Iranian-American protagonist
Content Warnings: mentions of death and hate crimes, self-harm, and depression
Synopsis: 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.
Shadi is the people-pleasing punching bag who ultimately realizes that that doesn’t sustain relationships, much less life. She deals with the microaggressions (and the not so micro), the overwhelming loss on all fronts, on top of the chaos in her own heart. At the same time, she finds she has built up resentment and anger, but does what people-pleasers do best, and turns it onto herself. Throughout the novel, Shadi learns how to not only fight for herself, but how to have faith in even the most complex human emotions. Sometimes, conflicting feelings are the only reliable thing we have.
Complicated family relationships are nothing new. Fighting with your family? Been there, done that. But when Shadi starts resenting her father in his current state, there’s an added layer of guilt that she can’t escape. And when her mom and sister are further retreating into their own lives, they leave Shadi to figure out where she fits. Not to mention, her best friend has some resentment of her own. Being both the source and the target is exhausting in itself, and Shadi can’t help but shut down.
We were all of us lost.
However, Shadi’s evolution towards letting people in without giving them control over her is nothing short of delightful. The resolution is usually my favorite part of a book, especially one like this, and An Emotion of Great Delight was no exception. I loved watching Shadi’s internal conflict with reaccepting her dad, mistakes and all. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with an ending friendship, which at some point was her anchor in a storm. And to top it all off, she allows herself to grieve and love simultaneously, because honestly, that’s often how it happens. Grief and love aren’t opposites, but we feel grief because we loved.
Of all the things this book highlights, one of my favorites is that yes, the world sucks sometimes. Okay, a lot, and the people can be really shitty. But despite all that, we have to make room for some joy. And not in a toxic positivity way where we ignore what’s going on in favor of acknowledging sunshine and rainbows. But emotions are as limitless as we allow; we feel all of them at once and sometimes that means that feeling everything, feels a lot like feeling nothing at all. We can’t get lost in either one.
It is a truth that grief is the price for love. You can’t have one without someday having the other. It sounds like a thoughtful, but at times heavy book.