I chose this first novel by Zoe Ferraris as part of the Book Awards Reading Challenge. It is a winner of the Alex Award, which is given by the American Library Association to books that are written for adults but have some special appeal to young adults.
Finding Nouf is set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It is an unusual detective story. A 16 year old woman from a wealthy family disappears, and her body is found in the desert. Did she run away, or was she abducted? There was no ransom demand, and the official cause of death was drowning. Nouf was found in a wadi by Bedouins after an infrequent desert rainstorm. But why would Nouf run away? She was planning her upcoming wedding, and seemed happy.
Nouf’s brother, Othman, contacts his old friend and desert guide, Nayir ash-Sharqi, to find Nouf. After the body is found, Nayir begins to investigate Nouf’s disappearance and death with the help of Katya, Othman’s fiancee who, conveniently, works for the medical examiner.
This quest for the truth is complicated by the simple facts of life in Saudi society. How could a young woman disappear, when women are not allowed to appear unescorted in public? This is especially true for young women in wealthy families, who have full-time escorts/drivers. How could Nouf have taken a family’s truck, when women are forbidden by law to drive? And how can Katya and Nayir work together on this case, when they are not allowed to be seen together?
Finding Nouf gives us a glimpse of Saudi life, and how the structure of society and the laws of the land keep women undereducated, housebound and, often, miserable. This book was very well written. It is a good mystery, with plenty of red herrings. It will take you a while to figure out who done it. I highly recommend this book.
Published in hardcover-Houghton Mifflin-2008
Softcover edition-Mariner Books-May 2009 (not yet available)