The Tyrant's Daughter

By J.C. Carleson
Published on February 11th 2014
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Netgalley
From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.
I was kind of on the fence about this one at first - despite the author's knowledge of the Middle East, I was wary about a white woman taking on the voice of a Middle Eastern girl.  It's so easy to mess things up or write something insensitive or inaccurate, no matter what your intentions.  However, Carleson's extensive experience paid off, as Laila is written with a voice that feels authentic, at least, to this transplanted midwestener with no experience in the Middle East.

The real joy of this story is in Carleson's writing, particularly for Laila and her family.  The way she captures Laila's transition into living in the US is perfect.  The things that we take for granted amount to culture shock for Laila -- even though her family was in power and very privileged in her country, there are still many things about American life, and the freedoms and choices we have here, that were completely new to her.  Watching Laila learn to navigate her new school, while still dealing with her rocky home life, is fascinating, but even better is Laila's slow education into what the rest of the world thinks of her family.  She obviously was very insulated back at home, so she never heard or experienced any of the negative things her country was going through, so it's a real eye-opener for her to learn that not everyone feels the same way.

On the downside, I did feel like some of the side characters were a bit one dimensional, particularly Laila's friends at her new school.  I could have easily done without them in favor of more focus on Laila learning more about the expat community of people from her homeland, who she and her family interact with throughout the story.

Much like in real life, there's much that's ambiguous about this story.  Politics are messy and sometimes people support the person most likely to win, even if that person isn't exactly a great choice.  Laila isn't exactly put in a great position by anyone -- her mother, their government contact in the US, their fellow expats.  It can make for a bit of frustrating plotting, but it is accurate to the fact that nothing about these sorts of situations is easily solved.

The author includes a list of resources at the end of the book for readers interested in learning more about some of the subjects discussed in this book, so it could be a great starting point for a teen reader interested in learning more.

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