An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi is on sale on June 1, 2021.
By Nawal Q. Casiano and Cornelius Minor
When you are a teenager, everyone has an opinion on what’s “acceptable,” particularly when you’re a first-generation American in this country. You are always being edited, advised, prodded, commanded. because your clothes are unacceptable. Because you woke up too late. Because you have to act a certain way to represent the family. The kid you like at school is unacceptable. The grades that you earn are unacceptable. Because you’re not helping around at home or forgot to do something for your siblings.
Because patriarchy tells us that we are not enough, and racism tells us that we are inhuman, and classism communicates that we are flawed, parents from marginalized groups spend so much energy attempting to build the perfect children who are immune to the harm that those narratives perpetuate. This counter-narrative that our parents are attempting to write into our DNA can sometimes rob us of the opportunity to be ourselves—with all of the flaws and nuance that come with that.
“There’s complexity in everything and I want us to have the freedom to be nuanced,” Tahereh Mafi told We Need Diverse Books.
In An Emotion of Great Delight, Tahereh explores what it means to live with all of the discomfort of teenaged identity: Through trauma and the challenges of navigating patriarchal white supremacy with a hyphenated identity, but also typical teenager things. Mafi is Iranian American and grew up in Connecticut. Her work has been published in the New York Times and USA Today, and she’s the bestselling author of several books, including the Shatter Me series for teens.
An Emotion of Great Delight is a book that helps readers to look at the things that other people have labeled as unacceptable, and learn to love and live with those things as they emerge into their full humanity, cascading feelings and all. To hear Tahereh tell it, teenagers are allowed to experience that process if you’re white, but not often if you are brown. In this story, she hopes readers will feel like they can explore all of the textures, triumphs, and trials of complex relationships—with parents, siblings, and crushes. It includes the fluid insertion of Farsi, and layering of references to Persian culture, including khastegari, where a suitor visits with a marriage request, and ghormeh sabzi, an intricate green herb stew.
“Marginalized people have to deal with stereotypes and deal with vicious narratives about our culture that are harmful,” she said. Books about marginalized people often center those stereotypes at the expense of everything else. Books about BIPOC children aren’t given the room to be about crushes or missed deadlines because too often they are only about racism. “It often feels like there’s no oxygen in the room.”
Throughout the text, the narrator experiences a lot all at once. And this can be new for readers who have had relatively comfortable lives. But, it’s important and realistic. We read books so that we can empathize, and this book is the perfect vessel for that.
“It’s hard to balance many kinds of pain,” Tahereh said. “Growing up it felt like my identity was reduced to a single point of pain.”
We are more than our identities. We are more than our histories. We are more than our parents’ aspirations for us.
“We contain multitudes,” she said.
And this is true for every teen who is lucky enough to touch this book.
Nawal wakes each morning to a cup of strong coffee and a head full of stronger ideas. One time zone away, Cornelius does the same thing, but with tea. Over the years, the two of them met through these ideas , and they soon learned to grow many others. Together. As book people, parents and educators, they believe in the power of storytelling as a way to connect our imperfect past to the infinite potential of our future. For families. For children. And for the world.
They are both educators who work in many capacities, but the capacity that energizes them the most is that they share and discuss stories with young people. There is power in this. Especially when it is done with an intentional focus on diversity. They believe that seeking words and experiences that are different from our own help us be more human.