A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
An Emotion of Great Delight takes a deep dive into the culture of Persian Americans, with food, customs, and much dialogue (mostly translated) in Farsi. The story is set in 2003, as Muslim Americans are regularly bullied, victimized, and discriminated against in the wake of 9/11, and conveys a strong sense of the author's own experience growing up in that situation. Shadi is a good student and there's a lot about the subject matter of her classes, from art history to math and science.
Strong messages of empathy, diversity, respect for differences, and identity amid personal and social turmoil.
Positive Role Models
All the characters here are complex and nuanced, and first impressions seldom tell the whole tale. Shadi is smart, hardworking in school, committed to her faith and culture, trying to be a good friend--and overwhelmed by forces from family bereavement to post-9/11 bigotry. "Blessed" with pale-skinned, green-eyed looks much in favor in her Persian community, she commiserates with a fellow Muslim student who's biracial and whose family has always dealt with racism at their mosque. For most the story, her parents are overwhelmed by bereavement and ill health. Ali, her friend Zahra's older brother, has shared a strong and increasingly romantic bond with Shadi for years, but his sister's jealousy, after years of being "befriended" by girls who only wanted to get next to Ali, keeps them apart, leading to much emotional turmoil. Zahra and Ali's parents have always loved Shadi and are always kind and supportive.
Violence & Scariness
Most of the violence is emotional, but there's a lot of it. Following her brother's untimely death, Shadi's family is falling apart: Her mother is profoundly depressed, praying for death, and harming herself, while her dad, whom Shadi blames for the tragedy, has suffered multiple heart attacks, is in the hospital, and Shadi can't wait for him to die. The mosque where Shadi and her family go was once a warm, welcoming place created by families who had fled war-torn countries to create a peaceful haven in the U.S., but in the wake of 9/11 it's become a place where you're constantly wondering who's an undercover FBI agent. Shadi is mocked and bullied because of her hijab by bigoted mean girls. Shadi's childhood best friend is actually a toxic, troubled frenemy at best: "So many times I felt like I've been strapped to the tracks of our friendship, Zahra the train that repeatedly ran me over, only to later complain that my body had broken her axles."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's a lot of intense passion between narrator Shadi and her frenemy's brother, but they are in a very conservative culture where a kiss is a huge breach. Which makes the story's few kisses very intense and fraught.
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Occasional "s--t," "f--k," "a--holes," "crap," "pissed." Also "hell," "damn." "Jesus Christ."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Young Muslim men, including the narrator's older brother whose death sent the family into a tailspin, drink alcohol and smoke tobacco and cannabis, much to the distress of their parents. The teen narrator smokes the cigarettes her brother left behind.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that An Emotion of Great Delight is a YA novel by Persian American author Tahereh Mafi, drawing heavily on her own experiences as a hijab-wearing high school student in the wake of 9/11. The title is a play on the name of 17-year-old narrator Shadi, which means "joy" in Farsi, and emotional turbulence is constant -- not just because of academic pressure, classmates and neighbors who suddenly call her "terrorist," and a family torn apart by the death of her older brother. It's also due to the strong lifelong attraction between Shadi and her best friend's older brother, and the friend's extreme jealousy that keeps it from going anywhere. Set in 2003 with flashbacks to the previous year, the story includes a lot of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole"), but takes place in a conservative Muslim culture where a kiss is a huge deal, with plenty of romantic tension. Cultural conflict in immigrant families is a theme, as one sister prepares to embark on an arranged marriage the other finds incomprehensible, and Americanized young men who smoke cigarettes and weed and drink alcohol are on the outs with their traditional parents. Shadi blames her father for her brother's death, and now that he's in the hospital with a heart attack she hopes he dies; her once-vibrant mother is self-harming and praying for death. Racism is an issue, even at the mosque. Her longtime friends' parents offer unfailing love, kindness, and support through all the trouble.
Is It Any Good?
Tahereh Mafi's post-9/11 tale maintains an emotional fever pitch throughout, reflecting the turbulent inner conflicts of its 17-year-old narrator, who's dealing with prejudice and family tragedy. An Emotion of Great Delight finds Shadi trying to find her own path between tradition and uncharted territory, and along the way there's a lot of description and dialogue devoted to Persian culture and the Farsi language. Readers seeking an alternative to stories of normalized teen hookups will appreciate a romantic tale set in a conservative, straitlaced, religious culture where a kiss is a huge deal and there's plenty of tension to match.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.