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An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

A review by Nalini Haynes

Shadi is a Muslim teenager living a couple of years after 9/11 while America gears up for war in the Middle East and hate crimes are on the rise. Wearing the hijab means she cannot hide. Others take off their hijabs, earning scorn from their religious community. But Shadi has other things on her mind. Her name means “joy”, which is an emotion of great delight sorely lacking in her life.

Shadi’s brother died a year ago, tearing her family apart. Her father is in hospital and her mother is not coping. Shayda, Shadi’s sister, is hostile, abandoning Shadi to walk miles to be late for school and to get drenched in the rain on the way to evening classes.


This story, as the title suggests, is about an emotion of great delight. I guess that’s joy because Mafi stresses that is the meaning of Shadi’s name but, as a reader, I’m tossing up between hope and love. I actually like hope as the aforesaid emotion. We watch as Shadi explores her relationships, lances emotional wounds to facilitate healing, and connects with her community.

Race and racism

Mafi is unflinching in exposing racism from verbal abuse that Shadi suffers to physical attacks on Muslims that she fears. Shadi is Muslim American, born in the USA. She speaks Farsi, her parents’ language, but poorly, with an American accent. This lack of a language barrier when listening to white people causes surprise when Shadi lets on.

Shadi muses over racism in her congregation and, with one of her peers, discusses racism in the Muslim community. Racism is particularly apparent in a preference for European features and prejudice against Black people.

Mafi weaves this into the story like other authors weave in mean girls and jocks. Shadi’s musings and discussions are part of her journey, always entwined with the plot or setting up upcoming scenes.

The verdict

An Emotion of Great Delight is a short novel; I’m a slow reader but I finished it within a couple of hours. Shadi is captivating in her relatability and differences, during her emotional journey from isolation to the end.

I highly recommend this novel and hope it will be included in English and even Social Studies curricula.

If you enjoy An Emotion of Great Delight you might like When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Book details

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781405298261
ISBN-10: 140529826X
Imprint: Farshore Fiction GB (HarperCollins in Australia and the US)
Released: 2021
Format: paperback review copy, 256 pages
Age: From 12 years
Category: fiction, Muslim, race, Young Adult

An emotion of great delight: a line drawing of a girl wearing a hijab intermingles with the title

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.