How to Be Young Adults in Riyadh

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea explores the stories of four young women who face various challenges growing up in the society that is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. From arranged marriages, fashion, education, and so much more, the author shares a unique perspective on the lives of these women by structuring the novel through a series of emails . In a conversation between Rajaa Alsanea and an interviewer, she was asked “what inspired you to tell the story in this manner,” to which she replied, “ in the conservative Saudi society, the Internet, cell phones, and Bluetooth can be as important, if not more crucial than face-to-face communication.“

Arab culture is often defined by many things, but in this book, it is showing a side less talked about and discussed, the women’s side. In most Arab cultures, women are taught to be polite and shy and not talk about matters such as love and the heart. In Saudi society, where the story takes place, the topics of this book were “something that Saudis have been longing form but were never ready to put into action,” Alsanea says.

Saudi Arabia is known for its strict laws, especially on women and its freedoms and rights. In a guide to foreign female travelers titled “Female Travel in Saudi Arabia: here’s what you need to know,” it states that foreign women no longer have to wear abayas ( a long modest dress that covers head to toe) but local women due. May customs that are common in Saudi are mainly done in the name of Islam and have been on the government’s agenda since the 1980s.

In the book, there is a scene where all four girls are wearing abayas and dare to drive around the city alone in a rental car. Gamrah, is known as the most stereotypical conservative ones out of the group. Sadeem believes in true love and is a hopeless romantic. Lamees works hard and finds ways to get exactly what she wants, and is known for her success in all aspects of her life. Lastly, Michelle is outspoken and openly questions society’s restrictions/expectations. This scene showed a difference between the culture and older generation amongst Saudis. The younger generation choose to not adhere to such laws as women not driving and other social laws that they disagree with and they choose to challenge what they believe is right or wrong.

Similarly to Sex and the City, the famous book and movie series about a group of young American women blazing a trail for readers/viewers to be open and comfortable about topics such as sex and love. Alsanea not only opens those topics for conversation for discussion, but also brings in the aspect of religion and limitations. Most older generations in Saudi Arabia were not accustomed to casually talk about such topics. It was normalized to be shy of such things, but the younger generation has changed that.

Girls of Riyadh is ultimately about young women finding themselves through religion, love, culture, education, and relationships. There’s an want for fulfillment within their heritage and embracing the differences between generations instead of judgment. Alsanea gives women all around the world a sense of empowerment through the stories of these four women.


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