Friday, March 28, 2014

Review- The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carleson

The Tyrant's Daughter- A Novel by J. C. Carleson
Available Now
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover 304 pages

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From Goodreads-   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. 

*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. 

I am having a hard time reviewing this novel. It's an interesting story of a teenage girl, her mother and her young brother having just fled their Middle Eastern country. The father was assassinated in front of them by a man hired by the girl's uncle. My problem in reviewing it is that some of it really rings true and is very believable, but some of it is not. Really not believable.

Laila is in a daze when they hit the suburbs of Washington DC. Her father is dead, her mother is still calling her brother a king and she has to start school. There is no food in the house except boxes of cereal and they have to go to school. Enter Emmy, her appointed guide for all things school, American teenager and also the lowdown on what the rest of the world knows about Laila's father and country. From Emmy and later the internet, Laila learns that her father was actually not royal, just a leader who lead with military might, a legacy passed down through generations in her family. The ugly word "Dictator" is thrown around and Laila is shaken to the core, defending her father, yet wondering if maybe she didn't really know him at all.  

Emmy is well meaning. She isn't trying to hurt Laila, she just doesn't realize how sheltered Laila is. And she is very sheltered. When she first meets Emmy in her short skirt and tank top, Laila thinks, "whore". Though she wasn't raised in a particularly religious home, she is still modest, and prefers the clothes that drape and conceal, just hinting at what's underneath rather than all the skin that the girls in America show. I could understand her being shocked by the clothing, but thinking "whore" when she hadn't been raised in a religious home didn't seem to fit. It doesn't say in the book what she wears to school only that her shoes are the same she wore when she fleeing her country.  So, she's in school it's football season because she and Emmy go to games, and then there is a dance. Not homecoming. It's the dance before homecoming so she hasn't been there that long. And what does she wear? A short, satiny dress, cheap earrings, and makeup. And then bumps and grinds with a guy she doesn't know at all. I just don't believe she would turn her back on her culture like that so quickly. There are many immigrants here from all over the world that don't turn their back on their culture after years of living here. And she was just weeks into her stay.

Then there is her mother. She acts like she is holding court, brokering deals with former enemies. I can't believe that a woman holds any kind of power in the political workings of a country run by a dictator. Laila says her father always used her mother behind the scenes to make the deals, but now that her father is gone, I would think her influence would be gone as well. The uncle in power now is a fanatic. He thinks women should not be seen much and definitely not heard. But every time Laila's mother has a meeting with their so called enemies, people that would have been enemies in their old country, the pantry is full and their is money in the house.

Laila pushes all the boundaries when it comes to being an American teenager. I won't go into more detail, you can read it yourself. But what is believable are the flashbacks she has of life in the palace. The meetings of the women and girls where they sat and talked for hours and drank tea and ate sweets without any men around. Laila remembers these times fondly, times when she didn't have to worry about boys. She recalls sweet moments between her parents and loving moments with her father. And also terrifying events in the last days leading up to the coup. These things all sounds like they could happen and did happen. 

The country is not named, but I feel sure it is a mixture of countries, one with rich oil deposits and one that our government would take special interest in because of it. So, the special treatment for Laila and her family and the mother working behind the scenes as well.

I do think this novel is a great view into another culture and a good view into what someone from another culture must think of us when they first arrive. Shell shocked and alone. I believed all that. I just didn't believe that Laila would turn her back on her culture so quickly. Or that her mother would have any power in the US with former enemies.

I do think it's worth the read. It has some scenes that are sort of graphic. Otherwise it is fairly clean.
I do recommend it. There is a great article about Benazir Bhutto in the back of the book.

I received a copy of this novel for review from the publisher through NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review.


  1. I haven't heard or seen much of this around, though it seems to be a unique storyline. While you weren't wholly sold on the novel, I'm curious about these characters and the cultural aspects of this book, so I think I'll be adding it to my TBR regardless. Fantastic review, Heather - very thought-provoking.

    1. The looking back on her time in her country was interesting. I will really be looking forward to your review on this one Keertana!! Very much!

  2. I'm staying far away from this one, Heather. There are so many red flags that would make me throw this book across the room- the congealed Middle Eastern culture is a huge one. How can you just lump everything together? Not to mention the turning back on the culture like a light switch.

    1. Yeah Rummanah, I don't think you can lump all Middle Eastern countries together and write a story around it. That's like saying every state in the US is the same. We know how much we vary.
      And that culture thing- I don't care if she wasn't religious, she was raised with strict morals and ethics. You don't just turn your back on those like that. I didn't even scratch the surface there.

      However, in the back, there was some fascinating information about Benazir Bhutto that had absolutely no relevance to the story at all.

  3. I can definitely see how going from thinking the word "whore" at a classmate to her bumping and grinding with a guy at a dance in a matter of weeks would be off-putting. I'm not sure this is the book for me Heather, but I so enjoyed reading your thoughts and I'm glad you liked this one for the most part even with some of the things that lacked believability!

    1. Hmm, yeah, maybe I should put a guide as to what liked means. It's about 3 stars for me. This one barely made that and it was only because of the peeks into Laila's home life in the fictional Middle Eastern country. No, I don't think it's your type of book.

  4. The dance was the part that seemed unrealistic. As well as her kissing and making out with the guy, I can't remember his name now. I also disliked the ending. It was too open. It was an okay read, I think I like the idea of it, but it wasn't pulled off real well I guess.

  5. Hmm I don't think this one is for me. I don't like that parts are unrealistic and you are right and American woman would not have power in a Middle Eastern country, still it is an informative read. I am glad you gleaned some useful information from it, Hope you have a terrific weekend, Heather :)

  6. I don't think this one is for me. Rummanah said it for me and what you said about the parts that bothered you doesn't quite wash well with me. Still, would like to check out that article. :) Great review.

  7. Sounds like an okay read and glad to hear that some things worked

  8. yeah I can see why you had mixed feelings about it, I probably wouldn't believe she could turn so quickly either.


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