Let's Talk About It: An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi
About the Book
Shadi is named for joy yet is feeling anything but. It’s 2003. The United States has officially declared war on Iraq and the local Muslim community is being harassed and targeted more than ever before. Her community is in turmoil—but Shadi can’t focus on the bigots. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, her sister is a stranger, her best friend has cut her out of her life, and her heart aches for a boy who is totally off-limits. Told partially in flashbacks, An Emotion of Great Delight is a gut-wrenching look at one family’s anguish and a community's grief against the backdrop of war.
Questions for Group Discussion
1. The novel is partially set in 2003 after the United States has declared war on Iraq following the events of 9/11. Shadi is often described to be reading the newspaper or having a copy of the newspaper with her. Do some online research via your local newspaper as well as papers with a national reach, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, into the time period of December 2003 to see what kind of articles Shadi might be reading. Summarize your findings.
2. While seniors in high school both Shadi and Zahra take additional classes at the local community college to boost their GPA. Shadi remarks that her parents didn’t just like the idea of her taking college courses, they expected it. Consider the expectations that the adults in your life have set for your future. How do they compare the expectations placed on Shadi and Zahra? How are they similar and how are they different?
3. In the wake of the United State’s declaration of war on Iraq, Shadi describes the turmoil and violence her community experiences and the decision some members, including Zahra, make to stop wearing their hijabs. Based on what you learned from the book and what you learned about the time period from question one, list out some of the reasons you think someone would make the decision to stop wearing their hijab and why another person would make the different decision to continue to wear their headscarf.
4. Shadi is grieving many things throughout the novel, including the loss of her friendship with Zahra. While the friendship had been on rocky ground for some time, Shadi believes that Zahra’s behavior can be attributed to previous false friendships. What do you think? Based on the flashbacks, what kind of friend do you think Zahra was to Shadi? Have you ever experienced a friendship breakup? How did you cope?
5. Over the course of the story, Shadi mentions a number of times that she is considered beautiful and held in high esteem within the local Muslim community because of her European features, particularly her green eyes. It happens so often that it becomes a point of contention in Shadi and Zahra’s friendship. On page 164, Shadi says “People were obsessed with my eyes, and it was dumb.” Why do you think the members of Shadi and Zahra’s community celebrate Shadi’s eye color and European features? Why does Shadi’s say it’s dumb? Can you think of other examples of ways different societies and cultures elevate European features and traditional standards of beauty?
6. Tragedy strikes Shadi’s family when her brother Mehdi is killed by a drunk driver. Instead of coming together in their grief, Shadi’s relationship with her sister Shayda becomes incredibly strained. What is the main cause of this strain? Do you believe their father played a part in Mehdi’s death? If you were in Shadi’s place, how would you react?
7. Shadi describes Ali and Mehdi as just the right amount of skeptical in their Muslim faith to aid in their assimilation and allow them to belong to many groups. “They found religion equal parts compelling and ridiculous, and were generally uncertain about God. But it was precisely their lack of firm conviction that made it easier for them to assimilate—made it easier for them to belong to many groups, as opposed to one” (pg. 174). Do you agree with Shadi’s assessment of the boys? Can you think of examples within your own community where this same type of thinking can be true?
Praise for An Emotion of Great Delight
"Mafi follows her National Book Award–longlisted A Very Large Expanse of Sea (2018) with another contemporary young adult novel of striking emotional intensity. Complex and introspective Shadi details her experiences with the specific challenges of Islamaphobia and with more general issues. With masterfully compelling prose, this surprises and ensnares, leading readers to an inevitable but gripping climax. Though there's a feverous feeling throughout the book, there's also formidable nuance in Shadi’s paradoxical and contradictory thought patterns, which add even more to the blunt realism. Emotional implications of great magnitude and stakes that could not feel higher. A bluntly powerful read that shouldn't be missed."
—Booklist (starred review)
"Mafi confronts issues of mental health, suicidality, racism, and self-love in ways that will leave readers reacting viscerally and powerfully. Reading this novel is like being dropped straight into the everyday lives of a Muslim family in post–9/11 America. A simply real story, devoid of clichés, that will leave an indelible mark."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Mafi’s prose is compelling and unsentimental, giving voice to the universal angst common among teenagers. She handles the timely issues of race and discrimination with skill, highlighting the inaccuracies so often ascribed to individuals of the Muslim faith. Her well-developed characters jump off the page, especially during romantic moments. An emotional, important look at an American Muslim teen’s experience."
—School Library Journal (starred review)
"Mafi clearly and movingly illustrates how grief can escalate uncontrollably and seep into every facet of life."
"Mafi introduces some potent issues around whether passive resistance or confrontation is the better community strategy, and scenes of anti-Muslim aggression are brief but impactful."
About the Author
Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, the National Book Award longlisted and bestselling novel A Very Large Expanse of Sea, as well as Furthermore and Whichwood. You can find her online just about anywhere @Tahereh or on her website, www.taherehmafi.com.