The Tyrant’s Daughter: A Novel. J. C. Carleson. Random House Children’s Books. February 2014. 304 pp. ISBN#: 9780449809976.
Laila is a 14 year-old girl who has lived like royalty and suddenly finds out that her family really isn’t loyalty and never has been. As a matter of fact, what she discovers about her family makes her literally ill with horror and fear. For she mourns her father who loved her dearly but she also mourns the man as tyrant and killer who has tortured and killed thousands; at least he is responsible for these acts even if he has not literally carried them out himself in a single-handed way. The word her friends use about the children’s fairy tales and practices of her father’s rule is “barbaric,” a painful word that sears through her mind and feelings for days and weeks. How does one cope with her father’s guilt, that which took the lives of families and friends of people she actually knows in America?
Now Laila is in America. Several people are interested in her, the man who is attempting to convince her mother to cooperate with CIA interests, the man who doesn’t trust Laila initially but eventually will come to accept her at face value, and a normal American boy who wants to write a journalistic account of her father’s life and her experiences in the nameless country from which she is in exile. Its these relationships that evolve in dramatic ways that cause her to grow up fast. Whether the reader thinks this evolution is healthy and good for Laila is left up to his or her imagination!
We learn that her Uncle is now ruling the land Laila once called “home.” He spends his time frantically calling Lails’s mother. Over time, Laila experiments with her new life in the United States, dressing like other girls do, dancing, and cultivating friendships that are “normal” for Americans but very, very different from what she knew before. Meanwhile, she learns the truth about her family’s place of “royalty,” and that changes her forever. Her choices after that will affect her family and her former country forever!
The author tells us, after the story ends, the seeds that planted this unforgettable story in her head and what she wished the reader to experience throughout the account and afterward. J. C. Carleson brilliantly succeeds in her quest and the reader may reach his or her own decision regarding same. This is a must read for American teenagers and adults, a side of life that could be any teenager in the Middle East or America, a side that calls for momentous decisions that could have planned or unforeseen consequences for history. Superb novel and highly recommended historical fiction or contemporary fiction!