How am I only just discovering Tahereh Mafi? I'm excited to start her Shatter Me series before too long. I'm also having feelings about her because she's Persian, and like the period in her book, shortly after 9/11, this may not be a good time for people from Iran. Teenage Shirin is a hijabi in one racist/Islamophobic town after another (her family moves all the damn time). Her learned response is to hate everyone first, and not to interact with anyone outside her family.
This being a YA romance, she meets a guy. His name is Ocean, and he probably has eyes like the sea. He's definitely blond, and like many cis het YA boyfriends, he is pretty much flawless. When Ocean and Shirin are seen holding hands, as Shirin predicted and Ocean didn't believe, the community turns on them.
It was like watching a child learn about death for the first time.
But it was so hard for Ocean to stomach that the world was filled with such awful people. I tried to tell him that the bigots and the racist had always been there, and he said he'd honestly never seen them like this, that he never thought they could be like this, and I said yes, I know. I said that's how privilege works.
The pressure on them is tremendous, and not everyone handles it well. Shirin's parents are clueless and absent for some reason, and Shirin's older brother, Navid, is her only ally.
Eventually the tension breaks, and Shirin is seen as vaguely human again, and she starts to connect with people beyond her family and Ocean.
The more I got to know people, the more I realized we are all just a bunch of frightened idiots walking around in the dark, bumping into each other and panicking for no reason at all.
I like when people call out bad behavior but don't exempt themselves from it.