Here's part two of the Q&A/review of The Tyrant's Daughter that I'm hosting with Christine at The Bookish Daydreamer.
I was blown away by this book, and I think you'll love it too!
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format read: ARC via publisher
Synopsis via Goodreads:
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.
1) The book was written by a former CIA officer, which immediately made me think that the book would have a certain degree of insight that a lot of other books may not have the advantage of having,
2) The book was about an ongoing political situation in the Middle East.
Fortunately for me, Lauren at Random House kindly granted me access to an ARC. And I have to say: I was absolutely blown away from this book after reading.
Things that worked:
Even though I've never experienced anything close to Leila's culture shock, Carleson does a fantastic job of making her immediately relatable. Readers will likely relate to Leila's general unease and stress as she begins attending her new school and adapting to a foreign culture, while also recognizing Leila's general shock as she begins to realize that everything she thought she knew about her previous life was a lie - and what she does to accept it and combat it.
Even though I loved every facet of Leila's personality, I especially enjoyed seeing how she vacillated between being hot and cold. She was tough on her family and those she thought would harm her family, but she's also willing to let her guard down and be honest with her new acquaintances. There's a depth and reflectiveness to her interactions, which really brings Carleson's story to life.
But, at the same time, Carleson does a fantastic job of also peppering Leila's interactions, thoughts and observations with just enough information about her previous life, where readers will feel like they've learned just enough out who Leila was before, to contrast it with who she's trying to be now.
The friendships/Secondary relationships:
Even though we don't get to really know much about her new friends like Emmy, the fact that they're there and willing to support her - even after finding out the truth about Leila's background - obviously makes a world of difference to Leila, as she tries to determine her new identity and place in the world.
At the same time, Leila's willingness to take on people who are a stark reminder of her background and her past, all show - as Christine mentions in The Bookish Daydreamer - a form of quiet bravery in Leila's ability to pursue these relationships, which I think readers will absolutely appreciate.
The bigger picture:
Even though the book is very much told through the eyes of Leila, Carleson does a fantastic job of showing how ongoing conflicts in the Middle East can impact people at a multitude of levels - from a former royal family, to the average student who's been trapped in a school, to the intelligence officer who needs information.
It's thought provoking and true to life, and I think that everyone should read it.
Things to consider:
The storyline is very linear, but it's also lyrical and invokes a lot of reminiscing and internal monologuing on Leila's part. I personally found it beautifully effective, and thought it did a great job of showing Leila's emotional confusion, and her attempt to physically grasp with her new life.
However, I can also see people being put off by the style, and not willing to give it a chance beyond the first few chapters. So please note: the style is ultimately what brings Leila's journey full circle, and connects us to her in a way that no other style could have accomplished.
This is an important book, written by someone who understands the world and geopolitics in a different way than the average reader.
J.C. shares her experiences, both professional and personal and weaves a story about a girl on the brink. Laila's attempts to grapple with her past and her future is relayed to readers in a way that is hauntingly beautiful, realistic and an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand the world a little better.
I highly recommend this book for readers who are looking for a story about a quiet, but unusually brave heroine who will equally frustrate and charm them, but also humble them with her new relationship to the world that they think they know.
About the author:
Nearly a decade as an officer in the CIA's clandestine service changed that.
With her head now brimming with stories of intrigue, scandal, and exotic locales, Carleson was finally ready to give writing a shot. Her fiction and non-fiction works alike tap into her unique experiences, drawing readers into the highly charged, real world of espionage.