The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour
“Girls don’t ride bicycles,” Wadja hears repeatedly. Being an 11-year-old in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, she finds herself constantly at odds with the societal limitations of her gender, from being forced to wear the all-covering abaya to adjusting her feisty behavior in too many restrictive ways.
When she first glimpses the green bicycle – seemingly “suspended in air … like a vision, a dream” – it’s determined love-at-first-sight: “Expensive or not, the green bicycle would be hers.” When selling forbidden handmade bracelets and mixtapes gets her almost expelled – not to mention having her inventory confiscated – Wadja decides on a more pious goal: winning the annual Koran recitation contest.
In a rare instance of celluloid-to-the-page, director Haifaa Al Mansour adapts her own 2012 film – Wadja – for middle-grade readers; that Al Mansour made history as the first Saudi filmmaker to shoot a full-length film completely in Saudi Arabia hints at her own rebel nature. She strengthens her tween protagonist, while deftly exposing tough topics, from male entitlement to multiple wives to women’s lives as second-class citizens. Narrator Ariana Delawari infuses Wadja with all the girl power she needs to fly through unexpected plot twists and make her dreams come true.
Readers: Middle Grade