Friday, September 12, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter

A review in 10 words (or thereabouts): "How can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?"

Author: J.C. Carleson
Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, copyright 2014, 304 pages

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?

~Goodreads Description

The Breakdown
Laila's brother is a king.  Or maybe he's not.  She always thought he was, thought her family was royalty, but after a few months in America, she's starting to wonder if her life back home had been real.  Laila's family was rescued by the CIA after the assassination of her father, and while her mother spends money they don't have, and her brother eats his body weight in cereal, she's trying to fit in, disappear in the crowd.  But Laila is drawn to her homeland, to a war a thousand miles away, and this invisible queen is looking for a way to make a difference.

The Awesome
While Laila's story isn't complete true, it's familiar.  J.C. Carleson weaves a story of deep rooted conflict in the middle east with the struggles and seductions of westernization.  Laila is a young woman who feels invisible but has the courage to act, even if it is misguided.  Throughout the story she discovers "truths" about her family lineage and yet she maintains a respect for her heritage and a desire to work toward change. 

The Not So Awesome
We're in Laila's head for the entire story, seeing America, the war in the middle east, and the struggles with her family from a teenage girl's point of view.  Because of lot of what we see is through the lens of teen angst and selfishness, character development is lacking in the secondary characters.  Her brother is present at the beginning of the book but pretty much disappears throughout the middle and end.  Her mother's actions seem completely unexpected at the conclusion and her motivation murky.

Overall a surprising and interesting read.  I really enjoyed the dynamic of a young middle eastern woman trying to assimilate in America, and I really appreciate the fact that it was a topical book on western consumerism.  Carleson showed a respect for both cultures, both histories, and really made it a story about a young girl trying to grow despite some pretty big obstacles in her way.

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