From 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.
The Tyrant's DaughterFeatured
I haven't seen many YA novels covering the Middle East, so I was intrigued by THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER. I particularly enjoyed how this novel doesn't take place in a specific country. It was an interesting choice for the author to make, but the story still remained grounded in a reality that is all too possible in this kind of situation.
With such broad, political scenes like tyranny and military coups, one might think that there's little to connect to personally. That's not the case with THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER. The author excels at having a grand background while making the story personal through the eyes of Laila. Her narration illuminates her struggle with finding herself liking the strange America and desperately wishing to return home to the familiar.
Because the reader sees things so closely through Laila's point of view, the story has an air of mystery that keeps you turning the pages. We get hints that something more is going on with her mother, but we don't quite know what. We only get the information Laila has, so when the reveal comes, I was a bit surprised at how it turned out.
What Left Me Wanting More:
I would've enjoyed more scenes of Laila with her new American friends. I found the scenes in the book to be some of the most genuine, as Laila navigates interacting with people her own age from a different country. There's always the undercurrent of Laila's family running beneath all of their conversations and this made it feel realistic.
The Final Verdict:
THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER has both a global and a personal scale. It would be great for people who want characters struggling with their identities amidst political turmoil.
Yet again, I picked up a book on audio that I wouldn’t have read under ordinary conditions. I like to experiment and push my boundaries with audiobooks. While I love books set in other countries and about other cultures, the focus of The Tyrant’s Daughter is more political than I generally like to read. I was totally right about the book being very political, but it was also thought-provoking, and I feel pretty good about my decision to branch out of my comfort zone.
In the wake of her father’s assassination during a coup, Laila and her family flee to the U.S. Very intentionally, as the author’s note clarifies, The Tyrant’s Daughter doesn’t take place in any specific country. Rather, it’s an amalgam of various Middle Eastern experiences. Using Laila’s family as representative, Carleson allows the reader to consider what life might be like and what the children of a tyrant might actually know. How culpable are they in the atrocities committed in their country?
Laila, at 15, has trouble settling into her new country, but her younger brother, age 6, falls into the new life fairly easily. Laila’s mother struggles with the idea of having to earn money and encounters difficulties with substance abuse. America is a shock to them, the sheer mass of available products, the clothing, and the gender roles are all overwhelming.
At first, Laila’s a bit disgusted by the U.S. and its culture, but as she researches her own country through American books and the internet, she gets a new view on what her own country was actually like. She learns, for the first time, that her father was actually a dictator, and that he allowed for massacres of his own people. She comes to question the loving father that she knew. She makes some friends: Emmy and Ian, with whom she has a bit of a romance, and comes to embrace a bit about this new world
Despite all that she learns, the U.S. never truly feels like home. Even her brother, who is most settled, never really sees the U.S. as where he belongs. They don’t feel as though they fit in, and want to make it back to their country. I love that Carleson did this, because I think it would have been so easy to write a story about them coming to America and being impressed, but I think the way that they love their country despite its myriad faults is more realistic. People are complex.
The plot focuses on the political struggles back home and the way they affect Laila and her mother. I really am not especially into politics, or I would have enjoyed the book more than I did. It’s well done, I think, particularly the juxtaposition between a terrorist bombing at home and a surprise vacation day from school in the U.S. because a bomb threat was called in to the school, which was viewed as a thing to celebrate by the students.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Meera’s narration works very well for Laila and family. However, I really didn’t care for the way she did the voices of the few American characters. They all had the exact same weird speech pattern that was almost valley girl, rather than a generic American accent. Both Laila’s American friends and Ian talked like that, and it was distracting and annoying. Otherwise, the audio was well done. I especially enjoyed the segments at the end from the author and Benard about the political events that informed the novel.
The Final Verdict:
The Tyrant’s Daughter is a character study of what it would be like to be in the family of a tyrant. It’s an excellent choice for readers who want to consider the ethics of such a situation or those who enjoy studying foreign cultures and politics.