The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson; published February 2014 by Random House
Genre: Young adult
Review in a word: Interesting
Opening line: “My brother is the King of Nowhere.”
Laila arrives in the U.S. with her mother and brother from an unidentified Middle Eastern country as political refugees. Laila’s father, whom she was always told was the “king” of the country, was murdered by her scheming uncle. Used to being treated like royalty, they now have no money, and Laila’s mom starts making deals with the CIA in order to pay for their expenses. Part of her mom’s new “job” for the CIA involves hosting parties for other refugees from their country—people that Laila never would have associated with at home. People who hate Laila and her family. Laila begins to learn that her father’s reign may not have been as upright as Laila had imagined.
In the Author’s Note, J. C. Carleson explains that she was fascinated by the various tyrants of the Middle East—Hussein, bin Laden, and Gaddafi—and what was left behind after they were deposed. They left “jaw-dropping collections of opulent properties.” And, she wondered, what happened to their children? “Was Saddam Hussein just a friendly grandfather/uncle/godfather to them?” It is a fascinating question, and that’s how this book was born.
I enjoyed this book because Laila is a very sympathetic character. She wants to explore America and fit in with the other kids at her school. The freedom her mom gives her—which she was never allowed at home—is intoxicating. Not only does she not wear her veil, but she attends prom—in a strapless dress! She even dances with a boy. At the same time, Laila struggles with trying to reconcile the loving father she knew with the tyrant she is now learning about.
Laila’s relationship with her mom is powerful. At first, she views her mom as weak and frivolous. Her mom loves shopping and is always spending their limited money on unnecessary items. Laila thinks her mom is being manipulated by the CIA. But as her uncle establishes a more vicious reign of terror than ever seen—even under Laila’s father—it is Laila’s mother, with her elaborate schemings, who has the power to save both the country and their family. Laila’s mom is a secret genius and feminist.
At the end of the story, they go back to their home country so that Laila’s mother can rule as the guardian of Laila’s brother, the next King. Part of the deal with the U.S. is that they will work to bring peace to the country, and I loved that rather than just fleeing and making a new life in the U.S., they are determined to change their country for the better.
“We are ready, the three of us—ready to go home. Ready to do whatever it takes to transform our Nowhere into something beautiful and peaceful.”
Yes! I can see this starting some really great conversations, if read by a group or by a mom and daughter.
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I was given this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Random House!