The Tyrant’s Daughter
By: J.C. Carleson
Released February 11th, 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Coming of Age
Length: 304 Pages
Rating: Three Stars
Acquired: via Random House
There- The Middle East: Fifteen year old Laila believes her father is the King before he is killed in a coup orchestrated by his brother, the general; and her family is sent away to a country so different from their own, leaving behind more than just material things
Here: Living in exile in Washington D.C. where the discovery hits: her father wasn’t the king. She was never a queen. He was a dictator. Her family story is a lie. She is the “Invisible Queen of Nowhere”
Throughout the novel, Laila is torn between her two different, complex worlds: the There and Here. There, although war torn, she believed her family was royalty. The only friends she had were crafted by her mother; the countless gatherings of women and girls screened. There was no proper schooling. Here: she has friends she doesn’t know how to keep or be around, one of whom is the bearer of bad news that tells her the truth about her father; or, how other countries viewed her father’s rule. There are boys. Internet access. It is a life she can’t get used to.
There are countless difficulties she faces; including near poverty as her mother refuses to get a job. When she starts to work with the CIA, there are still times there is no money for food or rent. There are men the mother has to do business with from their country that are slightly sketchy and hostile, but with reason. Laila is front and center as she sees her mother try to get her and her family back into power. All the power plays and conniving ways she tries to get her way.
As Laila watches her new life grow and fall in front of her; her mother tries for one more power play; and, her brother constantly says he’s the King. The relationship between mother and daughter gets challenged as Laila’s mother starts to pull Laila into her plan in a subtle, conniving way that makes Laila sick and torn. In the end, this is a book worth looking at.
Written by a former CIA agent, The Tyrant’s Daughter portrays what it is like for a young teenager in political exile. This isn’t a topic you typically see in young adult fiction. Sure, there are books about immigrants, but none that tackle what it is like being in political exile, learning what you thought you knew about your life was a lie through a technology that was very limited and control in your birth country.
A relatively quick read, Carleson wrote a fresh take on what it’s like to live in the war torn Middle East, but on the inside and outside of it all. Laila’s struggles seemed very realistic to me. I could feel her pain, missing her home; even though she realized how suffocating her life was, she missed the structure. When she told the Middle Eastern version of Cinderella to her friends, I felt her pain when she didn’t understand why her American friends only saw the brutality of it. There was something so raw and true about this story; truly, only someone like Carleson could write.
I liked this book. I didn’t love it. I read it in a couple of sittings, maybe three; but, there wasn’t a lot that truly drew me in. I found it as a good source to understanding the Middle Eastern culture more, and Middle Eastern immigrants especially; regardless if their father was a dictator or not. Would I suggest it as a required reading book in a High School history/world culture class, I have thought about it. There was some love interest in it that makes the book a little more contemporary and less educational. But, I think there is such a disconnect between citizens and immigrants, especially from the Middle East. Their culture is so different from ours. The Cinderella-esque story alone is a good enough reason why I think teachers should think about teaching this book.
There were some technical problems I found, like character development; but, none that were very distracting that I wouldn’t recommend this book. I hope you give this book a once over, at least.