Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter

Author: J.C Carleson
Genre: Modern Fiction, Young Adult
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (Kindle e-book)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Children's
First Published: February 11, 2014
First Line: "My brother is the King of Nowhere."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom 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.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children's for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I have something to admit ... I'm (embarrassingly) not all that up-to-date on world events.  While I'm not at the bottom of the politically conscious scale, let's just say that I wouldn't choose the topic of Current World Events if I was a contestant on Jeopardy!  But when I read the book description of The Tyrant's Daughter I was intrigued by the author's history in the CIA and the authentic feel that background would give to the story. 

The Tyrant's Daughter brings a face to world politics and its influence on individuals.  It's a story about a teenage girl's self-discovery as she learns more about herself and learns the truth about her family.  I love and respect the fact that Carleson doesn't vilify the Muslim culture but shows the differences between that culture and North American culture in an honest way.

While this book obviously deals with a young Muslim girl thrust into the vastly different world of the USA, I was surprised that Laila's country wasn't ever named.  At first this was a turn off for me.  Why not divulge this info to the reader?  But as I kept reading I found that I liked this omission because it kept me focused on how Laila and her family are dealing with their new lives and didn't influence me by associating their past experiences with a specific country.

Laila was a big reason why I enjoyed this book.  She was a believable teenage protagonist who has a lot on her plate.  She's a normal teen who is dealing with hormones and regular teenage angst but she also has to acclimate to a new life in a vastly different culture.  She misses her old country and her personal values conflict with those she sees in the teens around her but at the same time there are parts of living in the US that she likes.  

She also struggles in her relationship with her mother and I found that to be a very frustrating and emotional relationship.  Once Laila, her mother and little brother arrive in the States her mother soon takes on a different personality to the one that Laila is used to.  Her mother becomes calculating, manipulative and secretive spending much of her time in clandestine conversations or in an alcoholic stupor.  It was hard to like the woman and her treatment of Laila but you can see why she fights for what she believes in as well.

But it's really how Laila learns about how her family (specifically her recently deceased father) are viewed by people outside of her small family that made her truly believable for me.  She struggles with this new information as she begins to question her old life and how others view her family.  As she's dealing with all of these changes she also struggles with her identity and how she fits into her new life.  Sure she's haughty at times, uncertain and even scared.  But it's her struggle between these two very different cultures and her descriptions of American culture that felt very honest, enlightened and were a highpoint for me. 

"Americans never seem to be at peace with their surroundings -- they're always heating or cooling or just constantly changing everything to meet their whims. Watching their industriousness exhausts me, and sometimes I want to shout out, to tell them to just be. But I know I have no right to criticize. Everyone needs to feel some degree of control over their universe."

"I'm embarrassed to say that my first thought when I meet Emmy is a single, ugly word.  Whore.  But it isn't my fault.  It isn't my voice.  It's the voice of my uncles."

This book could have easily fallen into the common teenage love triangle of angst but Carleson keeps the romance on the periphery and I appreciated the fact that the storyline focused more on Laila's coming of age struggles with her family, cultural differences and ultimately her identity.  Carleson has written Laila with a very real and personal voice that grabbed my attention right away.  Unfortunately, the secondary characters, namely Emmy, Ian and Amir, weren't nearly as well rounded as I was hoping and came off more as clich├ęs.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that gave me something to think about in terms of putting a personal face on a global issue.  Seeing Laila's struggles with her culture, deciding on whether she can (or would want to) return to her home country was touching.  The writing isn't overindulgent with flowery descriptions, nor does it describe gory events for shock value. Instead it focuses on the pain of war/dictatorship in a very personal way.  I think this would be a good book to give to high school students for a World Issues course.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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