The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson
My rating: ★★★★
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?
Publication Date: February 11th, 2014
Thought it felt a bit slow at times, I enjoyed it over all. Laila's character initially annoyed me because she held herself really high and acted a bit superior to everyone (even though I don't think she was doing it intentionally). As the story went on though, you come to realize why she is like that and even if it isn't okay, it does start to make sense.
Laila is the daughter of a former ruler of a middle eastern country. Her father has been assassinated and Laila, her mother, and her brother are exiled. They come to live in America where they all encounter cultural barriers. The story in its most basic form is one of a girl trying to adjust to a new culture that is so different from the one that she is used to. There are political elements added in there as well and I think the novel is very relevant to now.
It was nice to see Laila progress over the course of the story. She grew up being very sheltered from the rest of the world and having a certain impression of her family. Through her eyes, her parents were perfect and had never done anything wrong (as most of us think of our parents at a young age). The difference is that Laila is fifteen and she only starts to see her parents from the public's perspective after she moves to America. She learns about the different things her father approved of when he was in power and makes her question the man she pictured to be her father. Laila's encounters with kids at school that emphasized cultural differences were also very interesting to read about. She didn't grow up in the most religious family but she still followed certain religious customs. When she comes to America she is exposed to prejudice and discrimination against Muslims, this of course makes her question her culture but I'm glad that at the end of the day she chose to think for herself rather than give in to American norms.
There are also several commentaries on American culture. It's not direct so much as Laila's observations of American culture and how to her certain things seem so strange to her. For example, she talks about food. One of the things she mentions is how the thing that excited her and her brother most when they moved to America was seeing an entire aisle of cereal which to them, in their country, was a luxury imported from Europe. The scene that stands our to me the most though is when someone calls in a bomb threat to the school and all the kids are excited because they know school is going to be cancelled (apparently a fake bomb threat is an annual prank at the school). Laila of course is shocked and even disgusted by it because she grew up in a country at war and bombs were a very real thing. Her view on the students' reactions really made me see things differently. I know that when we had safety drills at school all the students would be excited because it meant missing class. Fire Alarm? YAY, we get to miss class! Earthquake drill? Woohoo, less class time. I was one of those kids getting excited and I never really thought about what that drill really was for. There were so many moments throughout the book that just made me stop and think.
I love that J.C. Carleson did not clearly explain Laila's background from the beginning because it allowed me to picture Laila as being from any part of the world. Initially, she didn't have to be a certain religion or nationality she could have just been whatever you imagined her to be. I think this made it possible for me to relate to her more. I appreciate the author's approach to the somewhat touchy subject and I think she does it flawlessly.
The Tyrant's Daughter is a novel that will make you think. It is a well written story about identity that everyone can relate to, no matter what your background.
[Thank you to Netgalley, Random House Children's and J.C. Carleson for this ARC)