al-Mansour, H. (2015). The Green Bicycle. New York: Penguin.
Haifa al-Mansour relates the story of Wadjda, who at age eleven has an feisty streak and is already frustrated with Saudi Arabia’s cultural oppression of women and young girls. Wadjda is a typical girl who tries her best but still makes mistakes. She longs to have freedom and especially to own a bicycle she spots in a store front window. For her, and for so many, a bicycle represents freedom, independence, the ability to move around at will, and being in charge of your destiny.
Abdullah, her best friend, is nervous to be seen with Wadjda because of societal restrictions, but they have a playful relationship and, and he even tells her, “Wadjda, you know I’m going to marry you when we’re older, right?” Wadjda, however, is more focused on the present. She resents her good friend at times because he has the freedoms she does not, and yearns to buy this green bicycle with her own money to race him and win.
Wadjda carries on with her rebellious acts of making and selling mixed music tapes to friends at school, but she also enters a Quran contest based on religious knowledge, and needs to turn all her attention to studying. While the main storyline is Wadjda’s pursuit to earn money for the beautiful, green bicycle that will grant her freedom, all the other characters are just as captivating, flawed, and real. Everyone involved is subject to the pressures of Saudi Arabia, its oppressive culture, and religion.
Prior to The Green Bicycle, Haifa al-Mansour became the first female film director in Saudi Arabia with her movie of the same story, Wadjda. I saw her speak at the American Library Association’s annual conference in San Fransisco, 2015. She was inspiring!