Driving By Starlight by Anat Deracine
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: May 22, 2018
Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: Driving By Starlight is a phenomenal YA Contemporary! Set in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia best friends Leena and Mishail are no stranger to small rebellions! Told through an impactful and beautifully written 1st person POV, Deracine’s debut explores with such depth family, love, friendship, feminism, and so much more!
You know when a book immerses & impacts you so much throughout its entirety and it leaves you thinking for so long after the final page?
That’s what reading Driving By Starlight felt for me!🌟❤
Driving By Starlight is a thought-provoking read and I loved every single moment of it!
Deracine’s debut is one to read ASAP + Add to your TBR if you haven’t already!! This gem of a novel follows Leena on her journey as she navigates love, family, friendship, and contemplates about her future during her senior year, while also encountering strict laws and rules for women within Riyadh.
It was just so moving and captivating, this novel has easily made it to my list of all-time favorite YA Contemporary novels + favorite books of all time!!
Told through such an emotional, thought-provoking, and descriptive POV, we follow Leena and her best friend Mishail who are inseparable!
With strict rules within their town, they find themselves being a bit rebellious. Whether its walking out on their own late at night, wearing western clothing, changing out of or not wearing their abayas etc.
However because of the strict rules within society & fear of being caught by the religious/cultural police , Leena, Mishail, and her friends find themselves unable to fully take hold of their futures.
Deracine’s writing is poetic, moving, and honest! While reading, I may have tabbed quotes/passages at least 20+ times!! 😂💞✨
Told through a first person POV, we follow Leena who has such courage and determination throughout the entire novel shows us how much she is willing to sacrifice for her friends, family, and future!
She lives with her mother and spends as much time as she can with her best friend Mishail! However, her father is in prison for being a rebel against the government and in his absence, must take care of herself and her mother, while also working her hardest towards a future she dreams of!
As for Riyadh, from the descriptions of the deserts, city, clothing, politics, society–everything, Deracine delivers the setting in such a way that it balances the beauty and everyday life for Leena, while also discussing in such a real and honest way, the injustice within society for herself, among other women.
Leena dreams of continuing her passion and pursuit of law after high school. However, the strict rules for her within her town make it increasingly difficult for her to pursue her dreams.
Leena herself is so worldly and just wants to fight for a future she dreams of and, just wants more! However, her fears of what it could mean for her best friend + family, just captured my heart and I rooted for her with each and every page!
I’m not really sure how to go about explaining the plot, because there’s just so much that happens! But, I will say that all though it follows Leena & her story, its also about her friends and family, who come to life through her POV.
Additionally, you truly understand each and every one of the characters when you reach the very end!
There are also quite a number of themes explored throughout this novel, with the three main one’s being family, friendship, and the complexities of being a woman within the restrictions of society!
There’s mystery as well, in terms of the fate of Leena’s father, who we know is currently in prison. However, though he is mentioned throughout the novel, Deracine builds his character with such complexity and mystery, that we see the impact he has made on a number of characters as we delve further into the plot! I loved how Deracine explored his character!
I also loved how female-centered this story was! A majority of the cast is female and this novel also explores female friendship + dynamics incredibly!
Leena, Mishail, and her friends Bilquis, Sofia, and Aisha all attend the same all-girls school and are not strangers to a bit of rebellion themselves (which is why Headmistress Maryam Madam does what she can to ensure their safety, even if she’s well aware of their rebellious schemes).
However, things begin to change when an attack on a neighboring all-girls school, Najd National, introduces the girls to a new friend + Saudi American, Daria Albukhair.
Daria slowly but surely joins Leena + her friend group, but as Daria introduces the girls to a bit more rebellion, Leena not only finds herself worried for her friends safety, but feels she may also be losing her best friend Mishail to Daria.
While this fear that Leena encounters does take more of a central role towards the middle of the novel, the complex friendship is explored so incredibly well, with its ups, downs, and everything in between throughout the novel’s entirety!
Deracine also does a phenomenal job at weaving her characters together! From side characters that become such more prominent as the story progresses, to characters who you see a multitude of sides from as well, the threads of each of these characters weaves in such a way that is truly unforgettable!
While I honestly loved each and every character so much, there are a few I wanted to talk about!
First is headmistress Maryam Madam! While its clear she only wants whats best for the girls, we see how she connects more with Leena and her family as the story progresses! She is such a great character and I loved seeing how her character evolved throughout the novel and that there’s so much more to her than we first expect!
I also really loved Faraz, who is the son of Hossein, (who was a friend of Leena’s father, growing up)! He is so kind and supportive of Leena throughout the entire book! While he only has a couple scenes, he becomes such a prominent character and I loved him so much!!
Similarly, I also really loved Ahmed’s character, who is Daria’s cousin! He connects with Leena easily through her father, who he knew as rebel! Seeing how they connect through a way that Leena finds such difficulty talking about was also so incredibly explored + developed, and similarly to headmistress Maryam Madam & Faraz, Ahmed is a character who develops so much and you see differing sides of him throughout Driving By Starlight!
Continuing with the writing, there were just so many quotes and moments that were so thought-provoking and really left me seeing Leena and her story from so many different angles.
I honestly adored everything about Driving By Starlight! Its immersive, makes you think, has heart wrenching + heart-breaking moments, builds characters and their stories is such a fascinating and absolutely incredible way!
I loved the complex characters, story line, themes, powerful messages of hope–basically everything!!
So, if you haven’t picked up Driving By Starlight yet, I cannot recommend it enough! This novel is truly such a gem!!
Driving By Starlight is a spectacular novel! With an honest, moving and emotionally captivating story, phenomenal characters, and powerful messages, Deracine’s debut is a must read!