If you’re looking for books to include on your summer reading list, make sure to add Tahereh Mafi’s latest novel, “An Emotion of Great Delight.”
In her new book, Mafi — who is the bestselling author of the young adult dystopian series “Shatter Me” and middle-aged novels “Furthermore” and “Whichwood” — follows Shadi, a Muslim and Iranian American teenage girl, who is navigating her dual-identity while also dealing with her own family pain against the political backdrop of post-9/11 America.
Shadi’s name means “joy” in Farsi, but she is haunted by sorrow after the death of her brother, her father who is ill, her mother who is battling depression and her best friend, who has mysteriously dropped out of her life.
Mafi, who is also Muslim and Iranian American, said she drew from her own experiences when she was in high school in writing this book. Mafi was a freshman on Sept. 11, 2001, and the event not only transformed the world, but also her life.
“It was such a time of grief and pain for everyone,” Mafi told “Good Morning America.” “It was also a different kind of grief and pain for the Muslim community, which was experiencing, you know, a spike in hate crimes and Islamophobia and xenophobia, bigotry.”
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In her book, Shadi faces the same experiences along with the problems she’s dealing with in her personal life, which ultimately take a toll on her. Mafi said she hopes her novel speaks to young people who are struggling like her main character, and helps them realize their pain and their experiences matter.
“It’s like she’s got so much pain to carry,” Mafi said of Shadi. “Her burdens are so great and she almost doesn’t even know where to start. So it’s a story about her clawing her way through that and finding a balance, finding hope, reclaiming joy.”
“An Emotion of Great Delight” is available wherever books are sold Tuesday, June 1.
Get started with an excerpt below.
Were I a fly perched upside down, legs clinging to a fiber ceiling, I would’ve seen a sea of hairy heads bent over papers placed atop desks, human hands clenched around number two pencils, each seat showcasing a similar scene save one.
My silk head turned in sharp, erratic movements, my mind unable to settle. I had an exam today in my AP Art History class, an exam for which I’d not had the opportunity to prepare. I fell asleep last night in molting silk, fully dressed and freezing, awoke in my own blood. The wound on my chin had ripped open as I slept and I found evidence of this fact on my pillow, in my hair, smeared across my eyelids. In my dreams my teeth rotted, fell out of my head, I screamed the screams of dreams that made no sound and sat straight up at the screech of my alarm, my chest tight with terror.
It seemed my constant companion, this feeling, this word.
It haunted me, tormented me, terror, terrifying, terrorist, terrorism, these were my definitions in the dictionary along with my face and surname, first name, date of birth.
I’d made more of an effort than usual this morning, convinced, somehow, that eyeliner would detract from the bandage on my chin. I didn’t want the world to know my secrets, didn’t want my wounds torn open before the masses, and yet, there was no escaping notice. I’d already had to listen to someone make a joke they thought I didn’t hear, something low, a laugh, a tittering: “Looks like someone punched Osama in the face last night,” followed by an “Oh my God, Josh, shut up,” all neatly rounded out by another chorus of laughter. I was a turkey carved up every day, all manner of passersby eager for a piece. My flesh had been so thoroughly stripped I was now more bone than meat, with little left to give up but my marrow.
I stared at the printed sheet in front of me now, the ink swimming. My eyes felt perpetually hot, overheated, my heart poorly digested in my gut. I tapped my pencil on the page, stared at a block of text I was meant to analyze, a painting I was meant to recognize. For the third time in the last half hour, I felt a pair of eyes on my face.
This time, I did not pretend them away.
This time, I lifted my head, looked in their direction. The eyes quickly averted, the familiar face bowed once again over her paper, hand scribbling furiously at nonsense.
Due to the nature of the art history course—and the interminable amount of time we spent staring at slides—our class was held in the only amphitheater on campus. We were all arranged in an incomplete circle, our raised seats gradually descending toward a single podium in the middle of the room behind which was a massive screen. The teacher currently stood sentinel in the center of the room, watching us closely as we worked. Our class didn’t have assigned seats, but I always sat toward the back, where the desks were illuminated by only dim lighting, and when Zahra glanced my way for the fourth time, I marveled that she could see me at all.
Her attention toward me did not bode well.
I glanced at my exam again. Thirty minutes in, and I’d written only four things: my name, my class, the period number, and the date. My eyes homed in on the year.
I felt my mind spiral, rewind its own tape, a pencil in the cassette reel spinning backward. Memories surfaced and dissolved, sounds streaking into flashes of light. I conjured a vague, distorted impression of my slightly younger self, marveled at her naivete. Last year I had no idea the extent of what was coming for me. No idea, even now, how I would survive it.
My breath caught.
Pain speared me without warning, a javelin through the throat. I forced myself to take a calming breath, forced myself to return to the present moment, to the pressing task at hand. We were down to twenty minutes in class and I hadn’t yet answered a single question. I reached for my pencil, compelled myself to focus.
My fingers closed around air.
I frowned. Looked around. I was about to give up on the writing instrument I thought I’d had, about to reach into my bag for a new one when someone tapped me, gently, on the shoulder.I turned.
Wordlessly, my neighbor handed over my pencil. “You dropped it,” he mouthed.
I stared at him for just a moment too long, my mind catching up to my body as if on a delay.
My heart was pounding.
“Thank you,” I finally said, but even my whisper was too loud. I ignored a few fleeting looks from my classmates, sat back in my seat. I glanced again at my neighbor out of the corner of my eye, though not surreptitiously enough. He met my gaze, smiled.
I averted my eyes, worried I’d just made myself seem more than casually interested in this guy. Noah. His name was Noah. He was one of the only black kids in our school, which was enough to make him memorable, but more than that—he was new. He’d transferred in about a month ago, and I didn’t think I’d ever spoken to him prior to this moment. In fact, I couldn’t presently recall ever sitting next to him. Then again, there were forty-five students in this class, and I couldn’t trust my memory; I was terrible at noticing details these days. Then again again, I didn’t think I was so checked out that I couldn’t even remember who sat next to me in class.
I slumped lower in my chair.
The painting poorly printed on my exam came suddenly into sharp focus. Two women were working together to behead a man, one pinning him to the mattress as he struggled, theother sawing into his throat with a dagger. I tapped my pencil against the picture; my heart thudded nervously in my chest.
I closed my eyes for a second, two seconds, more.
Ali’s reappearance last night had dredged up feelings I hadn’t allowed myself to think about in months. I seldom allowed myself to think about last year, my junior year; I often thought it a miracle I was still alive to remember those days at all. September of last year my heart had been left for dead under an avalanche of emotion delivered in triplicate:
Love. Hate. Grief.
Three different blows delivered in quick succession. I was stunned to discover, all these months later, that hatred had been the hardest to overcome.
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