Recently I got the chance to ride my bicycle again after quite some time, meaning many months. I used to bike all the time when I was younger. It’s something I really want to pick up again and not let it go again!
The feeling of biking is exhilarating and freeing.
A Penguin representative reached out to me asking if I’d review a book The Green Bicycle. The story features a bold eleven year old, Wadjda, who lives in Saudi Arabia and her wish is to ride a bike. The issue is that girls don’t ride bikes where she lives. I couldn’t wait to read the story and glad I got the chance to read it and review it!
Amazon Summary: click here for look inside!
Spunky eleven-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her parents. She desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, even though it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Wadjda earns money for her dream bike by selling homemade bracelets and mixtapes of banned music to her classmates. But after she’s caught, she’s forced to turn over a new leaf (sort of), or risk expulsion from school. Still, Wadjda keeps scheming, and with the bicycle so closely in her sights, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Set against the shifting social attitudes of the Middle East, The Green Bicycle explores gender roles, conformity, and the importance of family, all with wit and irresistible heart.
I was curious to read this book as I grew up in Abu Dhabi and wanted to see how her experience in Saudi Arabia was different from mine. The book is fictional, but the experiences reflect he author Haifaa Al Mansour’s school experiences.
Wadjda deals with challenges from being in an overly strict school where the girls are forced to memorize chants and patriotic songs. Wadjda struggles with the meaningless and mundane activities. When a Quran competition’s first prize is a big amount of money that can pay for a bicycle, Wadjda decides that she will win the competition so that she can buy a green bicycle that she has set her eyes on. Her friend Abdullah secretly teaches her to ride his bicycle and the feeling Wadjda experiences racing on his bike is pure joy.
In Abu Dhabi, I leraned to ride a bike and would ride around my house in a small parking lot so was glad to have that opportunity – something I took for granted. I felt for Wadjda who felt limited.
Furthermore, Wadjda deals with some hard issues such as washing her father remarry another wife when he is still married to his mother. Her heart breaks when she witnesses her mother’s sorrow. The mother and daughter’s connection is rekindled and although initially, her mother does not feel it is proper for Wadjda to ride a bike, at the end her mother supports her daughter and allows her ride it as she wishes. I don’t want to say too much about the exciting ending in case you get a chance to read it!
The author Haifaa Al Mansour wrote an author note that shed light on her experiences as a child. She said the main character is based on a lot of girls she grew up with. She writes the story isn’t necessarily autobiographical but is based on the place she came from. She experienced a lot of the same frustrations that Wadjda did in public school. I thought it was fun that author Haifaa had a green bike as a child and when she tagged along with her father to buy bikes for her two brothers, she spotted a green bike and wanted it. The seller was upset that she wanted the bicycle, but her father insisted upon getting it. Haifaa rode her bike in circles around her backyard, not outside her home, but still found pleasure in biking. That story touched me!
My grandmother used to bike to university in a sari many years ago in India. I always loved knowing how independent she was. I am Muslim and feel comfort in my religion knowing I have the right to go places, the right to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, there are a few cultures that look down upon letting girls ride a bicycle. That disappoints me and I hope each girl around the world has this right! I also hope each student gets blessed with wonderful teachers. Ms. Hussa (Wadjda’s teacher) reminded me of Ms. Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, an unsavory character!
One favorite quote from the story:
The next morning, Wadjda swung herself up onto her new green bicycle and set out through the neighborhood. Her feet moved forward. She pedaled at her own speed, on her own terms. For the first time in her life, Wadjda felt the freedom of pure, unchecked movement, and knew the sensation of using her own power to whisk herself through the city. The warm wind slipped under her loose veil and blew her hair back as she swerved down streets and alleys, bumped on and off sidewalks.
I’ll never let go of this feeling, she thought, and pedaled harder.
This book was based on the award-wining film Wadjda and I can’t wait to watch the film next!