STARRED REVIEW
June 2018

Breaking free

By Anat Deracine

In Driving by Starlight, Anat Deracine’s noteworthy debut, 16-year-old Leena is the top student in her Saudi Arabian high school, but with her father in jail for sedition and no money in the bank, her future looks bleak. Just when she thinks she’s found her ticket out—Saudi Arabia’s first-ever all-girls debate competition, with a grand prize of a full ride to college—Leena’s blacklisted from the debate team. Unable to escape her father’s shadow, Leena is crestfallen. Heartbreak follows heartbreak when Leena’s crush tricks her into betraying the confidence of her best friend, Mishail, and posts scandalous photos of Mishail online in an attempt to embarrass her high-level bureaucrat father. Realizing how much she and her friends need one another, Leena orchestrates an escape from Saudi Arabia for both Mishail and herself.

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In Driving by Starlight, Anat Deracine’s noteworthy debut, 16-year-old Leena is the top student in her Saudi Arabian high school, but with her father in jail for sedition and no money in the bank, her future looks bleak. Just when she thinks she’s found her ticket out—Saudi Arabia’s first-ever all-girls debate competition, with a grand prize of a full ride to college—Leena’s blacklisted from the debate team. Unable to escape her father’s shadow, Leena is crestfallen. Heartbreak follows heartbreak when Leena’s crush tricks her into betraying the confidence of her best friend, Mishail, and posts scandalous photos of Mishail online in an attempt to embarrass her high-level bureaucrat father. Realizing how much she and her friends need one another, Leena orchestrates an escape from Saudi Arabia for both Mishail and herself.

The Saudi Arabia of Driving by Starlight is a haunting land of morality police, hyper-surveillance and hypocrisy. Against this background, it is no surprise that social commentary threads throughout Deracine’s novel. It is one thing to document the desperation of the hard-pressed, but Deracine also captures the hope and joy that nourish Saudi people in desperate straits.

With a keen sense of drama and a gift for understated exposition, Deracine has blessed readers with an intriguing window into a part of the world most of us know very little about.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Driving by Starlight

Driving by Starlight

By Anat Deracine
Holt
ISBN 9781250133427

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