Date of Publication: February 11 2014
Source: Borrowed ARC (thanks!)
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.
*Bonus Backmatter includes a note about the author's CIA past, and a commentary by RAND researcher and president of ARCH International, Dr. Cheryl Benard. Recommendations for further reading are also included.
The Tyrant's Daughter disappointed me, but I think I am the person that is mostly to blame. What I didn't like was a conscious decision by the author to make Laila's story universal. Laila and her family never originated from any one country, nor did they speak their own language. I don't even know if Laila actually was religious or not. Every single detail about Laila's culture was vague enough that it belonged to no specific country. After reading the author's note, I realize that this was done on purpose. The Tyrant's Daughter doesn't attempt to emulate or base itself off some real life crisis. It is instead meant to be about one girl, the daughter of a dictator, and her family's actions through her perspective.
The author chose not to include any identifying cultural details, and my problem is that I wanted that. I never read YA about the Middle East, and I was so excited about what I believed to be a story about a girl forced to leave her country to live in the West. I wanted the details about adjusting and reconciling the two cultures. Ultimately, I was hoping for a story that didn't exist, and that is the root of my disappointment. It is totally my fault for assuming something like this. At the same time, knowing logically that my disappointment is more about what the story isn't, won't change my emotions.
I think that I am probably a harsher critic for this book than most people because I do have some personal knowledge on adjusting to different cultures and ties to the Middle East. The story didn't really teach me anything new. Nor would I say anyone reading The Tyrant's Daughter would glean anything other than an absolutely basic, and I mean basic, understanding of Middle Eastern culture. So, this book is not one that will really teach anybody anything about the Middle East, but it is a useful story if you look at it from a more human perspective. Laila's struggles with reconciling knowing her father is a bad man, but still loving him is really what's supposed to be the star of the story.
Regardless of the vague world building, I thought the story was weak because Laila didn't really know anything. Her mother was scheming and Laila always knew something was going on, but she never realized the specifics until the end. Her role in the big arc was so small that it took away from the plot. Instead, The Tyrant's Daughter focused on Laila's new life. It was about her adjusting to American culture and I guess this was weak for me because a lot of the remarks weren't all that insightful as there never was a definite culture for Laila to compare her new world with. I couldn't really understand Laila's culture shock because somethings she let go of so easily and others she held on. I don't believe culture is something that you can let go as easily as Laila did. This is just from my experience, but it is ingrained in you from the day you are born to act a certain way and the way Laila was able to let go of certain beliefs didn't make sense to me. I'm not saying it's impossible, but for me, it was completely unrealistic. Laila's school life was utterly boring to me. It was very regular contemporary school-ish, which is fine if you're into that kind of thing, but I'm not. I thought the more interesting parts were the CIA storyline which was very short.
In terms of characters, two stood out: Amir and Laila's mother. Amir was angry with the world and for good reason. His part was the most emotional I got during The Tyrant's Daughter, and I was fascinated by his mixture of hate and his desire to have the world be a better place. Laila's mother was a strong woman coping with the loss of her husband. She was solely in charge of her children, and her airy, manipulative ways were fascinating to me. I could imagine her very easily and I enjoyed reading about her. I suppose I should write about Laila. I don't have much to say about her. She didn't interest me very much, nor did I connect with her.
If I had known The Tyrant's Daughter would lack so many cultural details, I wouldn't have read it. That's because it would not interest me on a personal basis. Now that I have read it, the one major positive I can take is maybe what the author intended: I would like to be better educated on what is going on in the Middle East and the world. I took a politics course last semester that opened my eyes a lot, but there's still a long way to go. There's so much more to the world.
This may sound harsh, but I personally though the author's note and the commentary were the most inspiring parts of the story. This is a topic I'm interested in (world conflict) and I think I will continue to read books dealing with the subject. But for people that aren't interested in the facts as much, I think you'll enjoy The Tyrant's Daughter much more than I did. I believe it's for younger YA, and if it opens anyone's eyes than it's a book worth reading. This one just didn't work for me at all.