Tahereh Mafi is the author of numerous books for young adult and middle-grade readers, including her debut novel, Shatter Me, and the series that followed. Her latest YA novel, An Emotion of Great Delight (Harper/HarperCollins, June 1), follows an Iranian American hijabi teen facing anti-Muslim prejudice in the aftermath of 9/11; our starred review called it a “simply real story, devoid of clichés, that will leave an indelible mark.” The book appears on Kirkus’ list of the 100 best YA books of 2021, and Mafi answered some questions about it over email.
You established yourself (and were very successful) writing fantasy fiction. What appealed to you about writing realistic fiction?
I love fantasy, but I actually love realistic fiction more. In fact, when I’m reaching for a book to read, it’s usually a work of realistic fiction. When I say this to people they’re often surprised to hear that I started my career in such a different genre, but for a very long time I had internalized the idea that there was no room for books about people who looked or lived like me. I always wanted to tell stories that reflected my life, but I had some serious PTSD, and I was afraid. I kept waiting for someone else to do it—for someone else to write the story I needed to read, the one I’d wished I’d had when I was a teenager—and that was a mistake. Shortly after my daughter was born, a dam inside me broke. I can’t explain exactly what happened, only that it suddenly seemed essential that I write, and write honestly.
An Emotion of Great Delight is such an evocative title. Can you say something about how it came to be?
The main character of the book is named Shadi, which, in Farsi, means joy. “An emotion of great delight” is the dictionary definition of the word joy. Shadi’s journey in the book is all about coming back to herself; it’s about her fight to reclaim her right to joy even when drowning in sorrow.
What was it like having a book come out in 2021? How did you connect with young readers in this socially distanced year?
It was definitely strange! I did a lot of virtual school visits and events, but, ultimately, it was pretty straightforward—and due to the virtual nature of everything, I was able to do more school visits than my schedule would have ordinarily allowed. Some silver linings there.
Who is the ideal reader for your book, and where would they be reading it?
The ideal reader for my book is a reader of any kind. Diverse stories should be shared with a broad audience—in the pursuit of opening doors and windows into overlooked and marginalized experiences. I welcome any reader to read my book, and I hope wherever they’re reading it, they’re comfortable.
What book most dazzled you this year?
I was lucky enough to read an early copy of Sabaa Tahir’s new book—and first foray into realistic fiction, All My Rage, which I found both beautiful and heart-wrenching. I can’t wait for everyone to read it.