I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
An Emotion of Great Delight takes place in December 2003, with scenes from the previous year. Shadi is in high school, but she’s struggling. The US is not a kind place for Muslims at the moment, her best friend has turned away from her, and her family is falling apart. With all this, Shadi is having trouble seeing a way to feel hope or happiness. Then, she unexpectedly runs into her ex-best friend’s brother, Ali, who seems to want to reach out to her. But Shadi isn’t sure she can allow herself to be happy again.
Well, I figured this book would be sad, and I was right!
The writing of this is great—very beautiful and emotional, and the pacing is good. You really feel the pain Shadi is feeling, with the weight of so many things pressing on her. It was upsetting to see how horrible her experiences in high school were post-9/11 (granted, it’s not really any better now, get it together America), and it made you root for her.
However, lovely writing and deep emotions aside, I didn’t love this book, largely due to the ending. The description promises that we would see a character find a way to feel joy again, and in my opinion, the book never quite got there. The end scene was slightly more optimistic than the rest of the book, I guess, but that doesn’t feel like a joyful conclusion. More than that, there was almost no resolution to anything. I understand that there’s a poignancy to certain open-ended stories, especially since the situation of Muslim Americans remains so mired in racism and misinformation, but something about this fell flat. There is so much I wanted to know—about her parents, her relationship with Ali, her sister—that I didn’t get. Nothing is really given a resolution, or even a hint of a resolution.
Another odd thing—the character of Noah, while likeable, seemed superfluous to the plot or to Shadi’s character development. I don’t see how he contributed anything substantial that couldn’t have been provided by another character. Was he just there as the token half-Black character? Aren’t we past token POCs in 2021? I know all the other characters are Iranian, but still.
On another note, I will mention the content warnings, because there are quite a few: racist slurs, (off-screen) death of a family member, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation.
In the end, An Emotion of Great Delight was not really delightful or great for me. Great characters and excellent writing didn’t make up for a lackluster ending. Lots of intense subjects are presented with not enough levity to balance it, so the book ends up feeling sad without much reason or payoff. It wasn’t a terrible book by any means, and it does present some important representation in terms of race and mental health, but it didn’t quite accomplish what I think it needed to.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
An Emotion of Great Delight is published as of today, June 1st, 2021!