Girls of Riyadh follows four twenty-something girls from the capital city of Saudi Arabia and how they try to find love in a society that’s restrictive to young women. Homely Gamrah is married to a man she’s only recently met and isn’t sure if her feelings are recuperated. Gutsy Sadeem is trying to please her fiancé. Michelle is half-American and is acutely aware of the differences between the culture of America and Saudi Arabia. Lamees is hard-working and has little time for love.
The girls are all young and attractive and are trying to walk a line between Saudi Arabia’s strict cultural traditions and being teenagers, sneaking out of their parents houses, going shopping and dating. They are still trying to be good Muslim girls, which means pleasing their families and their men.
The story is told through e-mails from an anonymous woman who is telling the story of her four friends. Over the course of the novel you can’t help but wonder if the narrator is one of the four girls whose story is being told or if she’s another friend or relative in the girls’ lives.
Girls of Riyadh is a fascinating book as while it has the same elements you’re used to see in almost every book, the troubles and successes of romance, friendship and family, being set in Saudi Arabia means there’s elements of language, religion and culture that I never really knew about. It’s an interesting insight of these girls’ lives.
The novel takes place over a number of years so many of the girls go through career changes, move abroad to England or America for a while, they get their hearts broken and find new loves. Because of that, Girls of Riyadh feels very real. Everyone goes through changes in their lives so seeing these girls grow up but their friendship still manages to stay strong is very true to life.
The language is quite simple but that makes sense since it has been translated into English and also as the anonymous narrator explains, she’s not used to writing much at all.
I give Girls of Riyadh 4/5.