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Driving by Starlight

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Sixteen-year-olds Leena and Mishie are best friends. They delight in small rebellions against the Saudi cultural police—secret Western clothing, forbidden music, flirtations. But Leena wants college, independence—she wants a different life. Though her story is specific to her world (a world where it's illegal for women to drive, where a ten-year-old boy is the natural choice as guardian of a fatherless woman), ultimately it's a story about friendship, family, and freedom that transcends cultural differences.

Author's Note:

When I wrote this book, I was reflecting on the Saudi Arabia that I had lived in and left several years ago. It is also a work of fiction, and so much of it rests on my imperfect memory, anecdotes of others and research. Some plot events, such as the ones described at KAUST, are inventions and not historically accurate. I am really glad to say that Saudi Arabia is not what it was ten or even five years ago, and this book does not accurately reflect the experiences of women there today.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published May 22, 2018

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Anat Deracine

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5 stars
115 (26%)
4 stars
176 (39%)
3 stars
111 (25%)
2 stars
28 (6%)
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11 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,502 reviews449 followers
June 14, 2018
Leena is about to graduate high school...an exciting time for most girls, but Leena lives in Ridyah, Saudi Arabia, where women live lives dominated by and segregated from men. With her political activist father in jail, her mother struggling to keep them fed, and her best friend recklessly breaking all the rules, Leena has enough on her plate thinking about now instead of a future comprised of either fleeing the country to freedom, going to university on a scholarship, or getting married to a man she doesn't love. Then half-American Daria arrives, and turns Leena's world upside down.

Ever read one of the feminist books from the 1950s and early 1960s? Where the housewives feel caged, stuck and unable to escape the confines of society but don't know why they feel such a deep, burning anger? This book is that multiplied by a billion, with a heavy dose of extremist religion added. Think The Handmaid's Tale combined with The Feminine Mystique.

As another reviewer said: it's a theocratic patriarchy dystopian, but this isn't sci-fi.

It's present-day Saudi Arabia.

Leena is filled with anger—at society, at missing opportunities, at the unfairness and ridiculousness of everything. This isn't about covering up and wearing a veil, or even really being segregated and modest around men. It's about choice and freedom. The ability to choose simple things for oneself, to make decisions and go places without being chaperoned by a male relative. To learn to drive—and to travel without a guardian. To have your cell phone untracked and its camera left intact. To not have to walk the balance between staying fashionable for your friends (all women) while projecting modesty to avoid being sold out to the police. To not have to worry about being shaved or stoned for immodesty.

This is such an amazing book about the lives of girls in Saudi Arabia, one that I really recommend everyone pick up.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
Profile Image for Alicia Herrington.
120 reviews7 followers
May 22, 2018
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

A fascinating first person story about the life of a teenage girl in Saudi Arabia.
Librarian: Yes, I'll recommend It for purchase. In the school library community we talk a lot about the importance of providing students with books that allow them to spend time inside the thoughts and experiences of someone from another culture, To that end we see lots of books about minority communities and about people living in countries in Europe or Asia. However, outside of a handful of memoirs, the Middle East is rarely represented. This book hopefully signals a change to all that. It provides a beautiful, and heartfelt look at the lives of teenage girls growing up In Saudi Arabia. Absolutely worth picking up.
Reader: Set in Saudi Arabia in 2011 (right after the Arab spring) Driving by Starlight explores what it is to be a teenage girl growing up in a world where every action is a crime. The world is terrible. And yet it's beautiful at the same time. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a look into a world that most of us can (thankfully) only imagine.
February 21, 2018
I read Driving by Starlight as a description of a theocratic and patriarchal dystopia, along the lines of The Handmaid's Tale, with the difference that it describes a current reality. I found this a fascinating and eye-opening look into a life experience that was totally unfamiliar to me. And I'm not even in the Young Adult target market.

Disclaimer: I know the author and I read an advance copy of the book.
Profile Image for Erin Cogburn.
80 reviews7 followers
May 12, 2018
This is a beautifully written story that offers an incredible and heartbreaking view into the lives of women on the other side of the world. It is the story of friendship in the midst of struggle, and of the power of hope to conquer darkness.
Profile Image for Liz Overberg.
359 reviews33 followers
July 19, 2018
A Saudi Arabian girl struggles to break free of the laws that limit young women in her country (and in her religion). Very educational and very feminist. I wish I had someone to discuss this with.
2 reviews
June 5, 2018
When I started this book, I felt transported immediately to another world. Not on this earth. Not in this century. Looking at a nether living space through shattered glasses. Such was the eerily low keyed shock as page by page, the author unleavens a strange society in our 21st century world.

Superficially, this novel is about 4 High School girls, in what I understand as events happening in an elite girls school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Meaning that these are privileged and have connections. Outwardly, they yearn for what girl teenagers long for at such an age - movies, clothes, makeups and (ofcourse) boys. But these live in Saudi Arabia, governed by a 'nickle and dime' analysis of the Quoran and how it affects their every thought and action.

The muttaween, or religious police, not dissimilar to the thought police of another famous novel, 1984 are ever present and prowling. Drawn probably from the most deprived or underprivileged groups of the society, they are the tools to terrorize the average female. No action or assembly of more than four in public is without suspect. A smile. A laugh. A cheer. All looked upon with suspicion as un Islamic. And no exceptions either. The lowliest muttaween has more power over the most influential female.

The narrator is the only child & teen daughter of a jailed reformist and agitator. She and her mother live alone. But the two females cannot walk on the streets unaccompanied. They need a 'man', however young he may be, to act as a 'guardian'. That the male could be even 5 or 6 years old, is besides the point. Our narrator, thanks to her slim androgynic build, hides herself as a male under a dhobe and goes with her mother even to perform such daily mundane acts like grocery shopping or ATM.

There is apparently an underclass of thrill seekers among this privileged group. Boys, from upper classes, steal cars and do drag racing during late nights. Other thrills for these are listening to western pop music or trading pictures of girls they know. The girls' pictures are taken secretly or with their knowledge, which in turn, is a source of 'kick' for the females. The thrill is all these are forbidden activities for the males too.

Punishment extends not only to the culprits but to their families also. However, the higher you are in the royal family hierarchy, the easier to get a dispensation. Moral, mental, physical degradations abound. Still the males get off easier than the females.

For a female, the penalty for getting caught is even more severe. Our narrator suffers summary immediate punishment for annoying a muttawa, the severity of which, brought out bile from my liver.

This is not a fast paced or heart throbbing book. It flows at an even keel, till it reaches a certain climax. Just when we expect the situation to explode, the author defuses the it in a manner unfamiliar or 'unwestern' way. Female backstabbing and jealousies, even betrayals, take back seat to the overall pervading sense of siege against the cruelty and state sponsored injustice. It is in these instances, that the book soars, far and high above, against any classification as a 'chick literature'.

Can even such a society exist in today's world? A parallel universe which shares our earth, and discriminates in an absurd way, 50% of its populations. Under the guise of religion!

Ultimately salvation is found. But not in a way familiar or may even acceptable to many of us. But each has his or her own way to freedom. Who are we to judge!

The author's appears very familiar, not only with the Saudi society's interpretation of Islam, but also the many facets and rules within Quran. That she has used Arabic words fluently and within the texts without any explanation, is a tribute not only to her understanding of the Saudi society, but a confidence in her writing skills. A lay non Arab non Muslim reader will be able to figure out what these mean in context of the story. For those still in doubt, there is a glossary at the end of the book.

The book was classified as a Junior Library Guild Selection. This is no more a 'Junior or Teen selection' than Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter. It is an adult book, with a dark theme. The claustrophobia of being born a female in a morally warped society, is stunningly presented. Very easy read but very hard to digest. That this society is considered the West's and particularly America's best friend, is more a reflection of Western media's selectivity and hypocracy.

A must read, this book. Just because it is so different. Just because it is so unbelievably true.
Profile Image for Michelle Stimpson.
413 reviews7 followers
June 29, 2019
This is a really important book. Although it's incredibly specific to being a teenage girl in Saudi Arabia, it's also a universal examination of how girls and women treat each other. When girls are in competition with one another and their freedoms are repressed, it ALSO makes it more challenging for them to trust one another and to build supportive, loving friendships. DRIVING BY STARLIGHT depicts how different girls and women respond to their circumstances and Leena is exactly the sassy pants girl you can't help but root for.
Profile Image for Savannah (forest_reader).
645 reviews41 followers
June 10, 2019
I read this book all of yesterday. It was incredibly fascinating because it opened my eyes to life in Ridyah, Saudi Arabia, where women’s lives are dominated and segregated by men. It was horrifying and eye-opening. The storyline was fine, though it resolved way too quickly at the end and I was left with lots of confusion and questions. And many of the characters felt underdeveloped. So I’m glad I read it for the cultural learning, but the story or characters weren’t anything special.
Profile Image for Raina.
1,610 reviews128 followers
December 26, 2019
I almost clicked the button to put this on my "dystopia" bookshelf.

In many ways, this world feels so very distant from my own. And yet, so breathlessly close.

Deracine tells the story of one young woman growing up in Saudi Arabia. Where the restrictions put on women are so extreme, the character states at one point that she's only met one young man her own age. Ever.
Obviously there's all kinds of fucked-up gender normativity stuff going on here, on top of the surface-level Handmaid's Tale of it all.

I originally picked it up to potentially booktalk to local middle schools, but I ended up deciding it's a better fit for my high school tour. The characters are very focused on what happens after their equivalent to high school, including marriage prospects, so although I wouldn't hesitate to handsell it to a middle schooler, it feels more in line with what a high schooler is thinking about.

Definitely eye-opening. At least for me.

Read with:
The Handmaid's Tale
If You Could Be Mine
Profile Image for Christina.
40 reviews7 followers
August 12, 2018
This is a great "coming of age" book set in Saudi Arabia. Leena and Mishy are a dynamic duo when a new American girl enters, threatening their friendship. This book highlights the highs and lows of high school including freedom, family, friendship and love.
Profile Image for Jene.
107 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2018
“See, if you were a woman in Saudi Arabia, you dreamed of only three things. To marry a man you loved. To change Saudi Arabia. And to leave Saudi Arabia, at least for a little while.”
”We were all fighting one another for a window out of hell. Me against my sisters. It had to stop.”
A group of sixteen-year-old Saudi women are in their senior year of school. They glory in small rebellions against the Muttaween, the Saudi cultural police, wearing western clothing, getting ice cream in the middle of the day without male escorts, wearing colored socks, dancing to western music. But the women’s lives start to turn when their rebellions become much more dangerous as they realize the time for dreaming of their futures is closing. Their country has laid out constricting futures and bureaucratic nightmares for these women, and they are desperate to escape.
The thing I most admired in this book was the recognition that while their country and culture had serious problems, the women also took great pride in their people, culture, and religion. They struck a balance between liberal views on women’s rights and their religion, believing in both. In a national debate at the Majlis (government center), one of the young women argues that it is religious for a woman to be educated in the sciences. “A woman who avoids scientific knowledge out of embarrassment or fear is no multazimat (woman committed to Islam). She is a heretic.” And while they long for denied romantic relationships, they struggle to determine how far is too far – touching before marriage? Kissing before marriage? Or sex before marriage? Or does it really matter? The women find a balance in their own personal beliefs. And that is powerful.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book!
Recommended for: teens, young adults
Red Flags: cursing, cutting, discussion of sex, plans for suicide, some verbal and physical abuse, bullying
Overall Rating: 5/5
1 review
February 12, 2019
Anat Deracine has hit the right buttons and proclaimed her arrival with a bang as a writer.

Wielding a gifted pen, she has played with so unerring a hand on the quivering heart-strings of her readers. But how in the world did she achieve an improbable feat of turning a largely social narrative into a page-turner? The answer may lie in the fact that her book has many elements of a social melodrama and in retrospect, I now believe, an enigmatic thriller. On the one hand, there are deft touches on innocent childlike posturing, emotional barbs and free-wheeling open house on teachers. On the other, quite in the manner of children that outgrow childhood, we are witness to school intrigue with a cornucopia of events ranging from little plots woven around the protagonists that would do a Machiavelli proud to mafia type tactics invoking pledges to a cause. We are constantly beset with the thought of what is the consummation devoutly to be wished.

At a broader level, the book is a reminder to the world once again about the large swathes of earth still afflicted by anachronistic and medieval reigns. It has indeed thrown a harsh light on how children raised in a society whose laws and ways of life are based on an arguably warped view of humanity can be subject to so much trauma. For example, the word ‘Death’ is bandied about so casually for the flimsiest of reasons as to freeze our blood and make our hair stand on ends like quills.
Profile Image for Laura Hanby.
176 reviews1 follower
June 26, 2018
A fascinating book about the lives of young women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and the restrictions that they face on a daily basis.

I mostly picked this book to learn more about the culture, and it is packed full of that information. You learn about the culture of women and the restrictions placed on them by the government in Riyadh. Those restrictions include having to be fully veiled in the presence of men not related to them and not being able to pursue education without the permission of a male guardian.

In this story in particular, we meet a group of girls who desperately want freedom and independence, and learn of the lengths they go to, to grasp it. All the characters are wonderfully drawn and engaging, each with their own history. The only issue I had with this book, is that I found the end a bit confusing. The girls take legal measures to get what they want, but I wasn't quite clear about the details of those legal measures. I would have loved to see the author expand on that.

Overall, a good cultural story about women in Saudi Arabia.
Profile Image for Lillian.
168 reviews
April 14, 2018
Actual rating 4.3

I learned so much from this book. Written beautifully with incredibly rich world building and cultural immersion this is a truly amazing novel. When reading this book the idea that this is some type of fiction where we live in a society that controls women so completely is terrifying. I had to keep reminding myself over and over again that this is real, this is an actual country, and this is based on how women really live their lives. Anat Deracine captures the warm glow and rabid bite of teenage love and the fierce power and strength that women possess. This is a novel for all types of people. It relates to our basic ideas of freedom and love, while also serving an educational purpose about the Saudi Arabian culture.
Profile Image for Berkeley High School Library.
88 reviews29 followers
May 11, 2018
Leena and Mishael have been friends forever. They've also grown up rebelling against the laws of Saudi Arabia (particularly against females). Now, as seniors, their futures as women are closing in on them, the restrictions imposed on them are suffocating. Each, in their own way, tries to deal with the many roadblocks that threaten their friendship, their families and the other girls in their school.

Despite the specific challenges that they encounter as young women in Saudi Arabia, their experiences with friendships, jealousies, and family are universal. Highly Recommended.

Ms. Brenner
Profile Image for Karina.
537 reviews128 followers
May 22, 2018
Rating: 5 Stars ★★★★★
Driving By Starlight was such a powerful and moving story! Highly recommend this book, its phenomenal!!

This novel follows Leena, Mishail, & her friends in Saudi Arabia as they rebel + fight for their own futures!!

There's just so much to this incredible story from friendship, family, love, and forging your own path, this novel has easily become one of my all-time favorites!!
Profile Image for Lupita.
335 reviews
June 11, 2018
Amazing take of ingenuity and resilience in a life where every freedom and experience is overseen and controlled by men. Leena's will and intelligence let her survive a life that is filled with thorns and tribulations. It's a wonderful read and shes uses the culture and it's own religious rules to find freedom.
Profile Image for Nicholas Lim.
Author 7 books21 followers
June 13, 2019
Beautifully-drawn characters and a story that grips from the start - I loved this book. The writing is at times beautiful and spare and folkloric. I began reading for entertainment, continued through sheer enjoyment of the writing, and ended the last chapter wishing I could find out what happened next. Some new understanding of what it is like to grow up as a young girl under an oppressive legal code remains with me.
June 12, 2018
A masterful and compelling narrative set in the heart of Saudi Arabia. The author has captured with artistic finesse, female teenage angst and painful yearning for unconditional love and friendship.
The author has also woven into the narrative a yearning for physical and emotional freedom from a society ruled by a hawkish cultural police.
A must- read.
Kudos to the author!
Profile Image for Donna.
549 reviews5 followers
June 28, 2018
Growing up in Riyadh is hard; especially when your father is in jail and your best friend’s father is responsible for putting him there. Options for young women are very limited, and the best option for rebellious Leena and Mishail may be marriage.
3,794 reviews20 followers
September 16, 2018
Excellent and absolutely turned a lot of my own conceptions upside down. Set in Saudi Arabia just after the Spring Uprisings in 2011. Leena and her best friend revel in small rebellions but the stakes are growing higher every day as the girls near graduation and the huge decisions that will be made about their futures. A new girl and her brother add unforeseen cracks in their friendship as both girls grow desperate to find some way to control their own futures.

A fascinating look at women's lives and conditions, religious views and the ways girls and women live, struggle and work to have a say in their lives. A particularly interesting examination of female friendships in a closed society.
Profile Image for Katie Peach.
78 reviews34 followers
October 23, 2018
"Driving by Starlight" is a well written novel about a group of high school girls living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Leena is such a great character and I found the story to be captivating. It is an eye-opening book about the realities young women face in Saudi Arabia.
1 review1 follower
March 25, 2019
I loved this book and recommend it! It is a breathtaking read that shows the struggles of a teenage girl, Leena, in Saudi Arabia, as she searches for the freedom to grow into a women in control of her own future.
Profile Image for Bailey the BookNerd.
118 reviews91 followers
July 24, 2019
I kind of judged this book by its cover and didn't want to pick it up, but someone recommended it and I was like "okay, sure". Turns out it's really good and about girls in Saudi Arabia. It's awesome and definitely speaks GIRL POWER!!
Profile Image for Ashley.
426 reviews3 followers
August 11, 2018
This was a fascinating read. You hear about what happens in the Middle East but you don’t really read about it. This book really puts it all into perspective how much freedom we have in the US. Women in Saudi Arabia can’t do much without a man present. Take into account Leena’s father is in jail just makes it 10x harder for her. Her guardian is her headmistress’s 11 yr old son.

I found this book deeply moving and a must read for everyone. This isn’t just another girl wants to move away from her life but a real look into what happens on a daily basis in Saudi Arabia.
August 12, 2018
This is a great book to read to get to know what is happening on the other side of the world in comparison to our westernized world, where most people take things for granted. You have enlightened us in regards to how Saudi Arabian women live their lives and how they depend on men even when it comes to purchasing groceries. While reading this book I truly felt for the teenage population who wanted to explore their individuality but had their wings tightened. Overall it's an awesome book!
Profile Image for Brooke Davis.
161 reviews
December 29, 2019
This was a hard novel to read. Life for high school girls in modern Saudi Arabia is tough. I found it eye opening to learn about the complex restrictions and laws that impact every part of these girls lives.
Profile Image for Jennifer Thompson-Thalasinos.
328 reviews5 followers
June 10, 2018
This was an interesting book. Two girls coming of age in Saudi Arabia, a country that does not allow women to drive. As Leena and Mishie navigate their restrictive culture knowing an arranged marriage likely awaits the both of them, they listen to forbidden music and get Western-style clothing. Leena even drives late at night with the boy she’s secretly seeing. This book shows us no matter the culture, teenage girls are teenage girls with similar dreams, styles and preferences no matter what culture.
Profile Image for Lorraine McCullough.
253 reviews14 followers
July 9, 2018
Leena and Mishail are to best friends who enjoy testing the limits in Saudi Arabia. Leena is determined to go to college and seek her independence. Both girls find themselves struggling against cultural expectations that do not nourish their ambitions. Though this particular story is tied to Saudi Arabia, this experience transcends across all young adults who struggle to find themselves against society's norms.

Deracine incorporates friendship, family, and cultural differences to craft a beautiful female coming of age story. I recommend world literature teachers incorporate this novel as a supplemental text for extra credit or to simply expand the text list to additional cultures that may not be represented.

Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews

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