Book Review: The Tyrant’s Daughter

The Tyrant’s Daughter, by J.C. Carleson.  9780449809983.  2014. gr 8-12.

For me, anything that sheds light on Middle East culture is a good thing since I know nothing about it.  This illuminating story is from the perspective of 15 year-old Laila, whose father was ruler of a Middle Eastern country before being assassinated in a coup. This results in Laila, along with her mother and 6-year-old brother Bastien, moving to an apartment in Washington DC, courtesy of the CIA.  Throughout all this, Laila struggles to make sense of the differences from her Old Life to New Life.

Laila and Bastien start school and seem to settle in, making friends.  But while Laila’s American friends seem nice, she feels something is missing.  They don’t really understand her, treating her like an “exotic pet” and she doesn’t understand them, which may be why their characters seem a little flat. That’s simply how Laila sees them.

Being a YA novel, there is a hint of a love triangle, which also illustrates Laila’s conflicted feelings. American Ian sure seems nice, but even though Amir, who’s from her former country, acts like a jerk, does Leila feel some obligation to him?

I found Laila to be very believable in her efforts to understand her new reality. She even wonders about her own family.  As Bastian, who had the easiest time assimilating, lies on the floor reading comic books, Laila thinks of her young brother as heir to the throne in their former life.  She’s not sure which reality seems more ridiculous. Then Laila’s view of her mother fluctuates from clueless and self-absorbed to conniving and in control.  Lastly, was her father really the dictator her American friends say he was…or the father she knew at home?

I thought J. C. Carleson did a great job writing this story. As a former undercover CIA officer, she knows her stuff. I can see this book being used in a classroom setting.  An added feature at the end of the book is a commentary by Cheryl Benard, a researcher for RAND Corp.  She knowledgeably adds a real world context to this work of fiction.

Maureen S